Morocco says US military exercises to be held in W.Sahara

AFP , Tuesday 1 Jun 2021

The military training 'marks the consecration of American recognition of the Moroccan Sahara', Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani said on Twitter last week

Morocco Saad-Eddine El Othmani
Morocco’s Prime Minister Saadeddine al-Othmani AFP

Morocco's prime minister has said that US-led multi-nation African military exercises this month would take place in the disputed desert region of Western Sahara.

Last year, under former US president Donald Trump, Washington recognised Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara -- after Rabat normalised relations with Israel -- sparking anger from the separatist Polisario Front.

The military training, which the US Africa Command (Africom) says is its largest annual exercise, "marks the consecration of American recognition of the Moroccan Sahara", Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani said on Twitter last week.

Africom says the "African Lion" exercise will involve more than 7,000 troops from nine nations, without giving further details of contributing countries.

Morocco laid claim to the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony with rich phosphate resources and offshore fisheries, after Spain withdrew in 1975.

But the Polisario Front took up arms to demand independence there, proclaiming the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in 1976 and fighting a 16-year war with Morocco.

Morocco has offered Western Sahara autonomy, but maintains the territory is a sovereign part of the kingdom.

Othmani said the exercises would take place in two sites in Western Sahara, including the eastern Mahbes region -- where Polisario regularly claim conflict in recent months -- and Dakhla, where Rabat plans to develop a large Atlantic port.

Spain is understood not to be taking part in the exercises in Western Sahara.

Madrid has angered Rabat after Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali was treated in a Spanish hospital for Covid-19 in April.

Last month, Spain was caught off guard when as many as 10,000 people surged into its tiny North African enclave of Ceuta as Moroccan border guards looked the other way, in what was widely seen as a punitive political gesture.


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