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Morocco accuses Iran of supporting Polisario Front, cuts ties Open in fullscreen

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Morocco accuses Iran of supporting Polisario Front, cuts ties

Morocco's FM Nasser Bourita after a meeting with a UN envoy in Rabat [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 May, 2018

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Rabat has severed ties with Tehran in the past, including in 2009 before relations were later restored in 2014.
Morocco will cut diplomatic relations with Iran over what it says is the country's support for the Polisario Front, a separatist Western Sahara movement.

Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1975 after colonial Spain left the disputed territory. The Polisario, the Spanish acronym for the separatist movement, represents the Sahrawi people that populate the region.

Polisario previously fought a guerilla war for independence until a UN-backed ceasefire took effect in 1991, with a promise for an independence referendum the following year.

Disagreements on voter rights have stalled the referendum since then.

As part of Tuesday's move, announced by Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita at a press conference, Morocco will close its embassy in Tehran and expel the Iranian ambassador from Rabat. Bourita also charged Iran and the Lebanese Hizballah with training and arming Polisario fighters.

"Hezbollah sent military officials to Polisario and provided the front with ... weapons and trained them on urban warfare," Bourita said.

Iran has not yet responded to the Moroccan charge, according to Reuters.

The Western Sahara region has effectively been split in two for years. A wall separates the Rabat-controlled area from territory held by Polisario, with a UN-mandated buffer zone located between the two regions. 

Tuesday's announcement is not the first time Morocco has cut diplomatic ties with Iran. The kingdom severed relations with the Islamic Republic in 2009, charging it with undermining ally Bahrain's Sunni Al Khalifa's ruling family in the majority Shia Gulf state.

Morocco restored ties with Iran in 2014.

The North African state, which is led by a monarch, has close relations with Tehran's arch-rival Saudi Arabia. 

Hizballah blamed Morocco's decision on foreign "pressure". 

On Friday, the UN Security Council backed a US-drafted resolution that urges Morocco and the Polisario Front to prepare for talks on settling the decades-old conflict.

Western Sahara is home to phosphate reserves and is believed to have untapped offshore oil deposits. 

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