UN warns of rising tensions in Western Sahara
United Nations officials on Wednesday warned of rising tensions in the Western Sahara region between Moroccan troops and fighters of the Polisario independence movement, which could escalate into a full-blown conflict.
"The situation remains tense in the Guerguerat area of Western Sahara inside the buffer strip," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, adding that "any resumption of hostilities, with the potential to have wider regional implications, remains of significant concern to the UN."
Tensions flared recently after Morocco began road construction in the area south of a buffer zone separating the two sides.
The construction has been met with resistance by Polisario Front fighters, who are only separated from Moroccan troops by some 120 metres, the UN spokesman said.
Dujarric said the UN is "actively engaging with the parties and key member states to urge restraint and identify options for an acceptable solution to the current crisis."
A confidential UN report last week accused both Morocco and the Polisario Front of ceasefire violations in Western Sahara after they sent security forces and fighters into the buffer zone.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon last month urged both sides to withdraw from the strip of no man's land close to the Mauritanian border, amid fears that militarisation of the territory could flare up into war.
"[I'm] deeply concerned over the tense situation that has developed in the narrow buffer strip in southwestern Western Sahara," he said at the time.
Moroccan soldiers and Polisario fighters were "in close proximity to each other" in the buffer zone, a UN statement has said.
Ki-moon called on both sides "to suspend any action that alters that status quo and to withdraw all armed elements so as to prevent any further escalation".
The situation is being monitored by the UN mission known as MINURSO, which set up a patrol near the tense area.
MINURSO was established in 1991 after a ceasefire ended a war that broke out when Morocco sent troops to the former Spanish territory in 1975 to fight the Polisario front's ethnic Sahrawi rebels.
Morocco maintains that Western Sahara is an integral part of its kingdom despite UN resolutions that task MINURSO with organising a referendum on self-determination.
Agencies contributed to this report.