Polisario Front rebel group that seeks independence for Western Sahara says ongoing fighting will end if Rabat ends its "occupation" of the disputed territory.

A handout picture published by Moroccan Army on November 13, 2020, shows tents used by the Polisario Front ablaze near the Mauritanian border in Guerguerat in Western Sahara.
A handout picture published by Moroccan Army on November 13, 2020, shows tents used by the Polisario Front ablaze near the Mauritanian border in Guerguerat in Western Sahara. (AFP)

The rebel group Polisario Front has said the conflict in Western Sahara would only end when Morocco ends its "occupation" of the disputed territory.

"The end of the war is now linked to the end of the illegal occupation of parts of the territory of the Sahrawi Republic," said senior Polisario official Mohamed Salem Ould Salek.

"The war only started as a consequence of Morocco's aggression and action in Guerguerat," said Ould Salek, who is foreign minister of the Polisario-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).

Polisario Front said that intense fighting was continuing along the 2,700-kilometre Moroccan wall of defence that cuts through Western Sahara.

Morocco launched a military operation on Friday to reopen a key highway at the Guerguerat border crossing between the territory and Mauritania that it said had been blocked by the Polisario rebels.

The Algerian-backed Polisario, which does not recognise the existence of the road, responded by declaring the end of an almost three-decade UN-supervised ceasefire in Western Sahara.

READ MORE: Will recent clashes reignite the Morocco-Western Sahara conflict?

Morocco says committed to truce 

But on Monday Ould Salek called for the full implementation of the 1991 ceasefire as a condition for a stop to the hostilities.

He was referring to a referendum on self-determination set out in the ceasefire deal that the Polisario has been constantly demanding over the past 30 years.

The vote has been repeatedly postponed due to disputes between Rabat and the Polisario over voter rolls and the question to be put on the ballot.

Morocco says it is still committed to the ceasefire.

Firefighting 

Meanwhile, the Moroccan official news agency MAP said late on Sunday that Rabat's military had responded to fire by the Polisario Front along the UN-patrolled buffer zone.

"Since 13 November 2020, Polisario militias have fired provocative shots along the line of defence without causing human or material damage," MAP said, citing the Far-Maroc unofficial website dedicated to military news.

The fire from the Moroccans destroyed an armoured vehicle east of the line of defence at El Mahbes, it said on its Facebook page.

Polisario Front announced that it was mobilising "thousands of volunteers" to join its fighters.

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Divided and difficult to reach 

The territory is tough to travel through and the Moroccan authorities do not allow journalists access, making it difficult to verify reports from either side.

Rabat controls around three-quarters of Western Sahara, a vast swathe of the desert on the Atlantic coast, including its phosphate deposits and its lucrative ocean fisheries. 

The Polisario controls the remainder.

Morocco maintains that Western Sahara is an integral part of the kingdom and has offered autonomy for the disputed territory, but insists it will retain sovereignty.

Negotiations involving Morocco, Polisario, Algeria, and Mauritania have been at a standstill since 2019.

Polisario Front has appeared to have considerable support in the region since its fight against the Spanish colonisation in the 1970s. 

But the Moroccan government has built an expensive 2,700-kilometre-long wall in the Sahara in the 1980s, through which Rabat is effectively able to control nearly 80 percent of the contested region.

READ MORE: Fighting escalates in Western Sahara despite restraint calls by UN, others

Source: AFP