The Morrocan government warned the UN peacekeeping mission for Western Sahara of Polisario Front independence fighters moving into UN-controlled areas but a UN spokesman said the mission has "not observed any movement".

Members of the Polisario Front, the organisation disputing sovereignty over Western Sahara with Morocco, mourn their leader, Mohamed Abdelaziz, during his funerals held in the Rabouni refugees camp, south western Algeria, Friday, June 3, 2016.
Members of the Polisario Front, the organisation disputing sovereignty over Western Sahara with Morocco, mourn their leader, Mohamed Abdelaziz, during his funerals held in the Rabouni refugees camp, south western Algeria, Friday, June 3, 2016. (AP Archive)

Morocco's government is threatening to take control of UN-monitored buffer zones in Western Sahara amid concerns that the mission is failing to keep out Polisario Front independence fighters.

The warning on Sunday came as the UN is preparing a report this week on whether to extend its 27-year-old peacekeeping mission for Western Sahara, a territory claimed by both Morocco and the Polisario.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said on Sunday that the Polisario recently moved members to the UN-controlled areas of Bir Lehlou and Tifariti. He also said Polisario members are again entering the Guerguerat area near the Mauritanian border, despite a UN-brokered deal to leave after tensions erupted there in 2016.

"If the UN, its secretary-general and the Security Council are not ready to put an end to these provocations, Morocco will have to act out its responsibility and intervene in the buffer zones," Bourita told reporters after an emergency parliament session to address Western Sahara.

"Not observed any movement"

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters on Monday that members of the UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, known as MINURSO, "have not observed any movement of military elements in the northeast territory."

"MINURSO continues to monitor the situation closely," he added.

Bourita said Morocco has alerted the Security Council to its plans to step in the deserted land, but declined to specify what kind of intervention or when it would begin.

Peru's UN ambassador, Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, the current council president, told reporters on Monday that he received a letter from Morocco's UN ambassador that has been circulated to the 15 council members.

He called it an "informative letter" and said "no action has been taken yet."

Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit said, "Morocco is ready to do everything to preserve its Sahara."

Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in 1975 and fought the independence-seeking Polisario Front. The UN brokered a cease-fire in 1991 and established a peacekeeping mission to monitor it and to help prepare a referendum on the territory's future that has never taken place.

The Saharans' envoy to Algeria, Abdelghafour, said Polisario members in the buffer zones are under surveillance by UN forces, and accused Morocco of violating the cease-fire.

"Morocco is threatening everything," he said. "It's obvious that these maneuvers are aimed at influencing the next UN Security Council meeting to stop it from taking practical, effective measures."

The UN envoy for Western Sahara, Horst Kohler, has sought to broaden the discussions on the territory's future.

Morocco considers the mineral-rich Western Sahara its southern provinces and has invested heavily in development programmes, and proposed giving the territory wide-ranging autonomy. Polisario insists that the referendum can only take place based on the principle of self-determination for the local population, which it estimates at between 350,000 and 500,000.

In 2016, Moroccan forces and Polisario Front fighters moved into Guerguerat in the buffer zone but pulled out a year later.

Also in 2016, Morocco expelled over 70 people working for the UN mission in Western Sahara, known as MINURSO, after then-UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon used the word "occupation" in talking about Western Sahara.

Source: AP