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UN chief calls for “all necessary steps” to avoid escalating
tensions in southern part of Western Sahara

UNITED NATIONS, (Xinhua) -- UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday said that he was “deeply concerned about the increased tensions” in southern Western Sahara between the Moroccan berm and the Mauritanian border, and called on relevant parties to “exercise maximum restraint and take all necessary steps to avoid escalating tensions.”  

“The secretary-general is deeply concerned about the increased tensions in the vicinity of Guerguerat in the Buffer Strip in southern Western Sahara,” said a statement issued here by Guterres’ spokesman.

Armed elements of both Morocco and Frente Polisario remain in close proximity to each other, a position they have been in since August 2016, monitored during daylight hours by the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), the statement noted.

“The secretary-general calls on both of the parties to exercise maximum restraint and take all necessary steps to avoid escalating tensions, be that through the actions of military or civilian actors,” the statement said. 

“He also underlines that regular commercial traffic should not be obstructed and that no action should be taken, which may constitute a change to the status quo of the Buffer Strip,” the statement said.

“The secretary-general strongly urges the parties to unconditionally withdraw all armed elements from the Buffer Strip as soon as possible, to create an environment conducive to a resumption of the dialogue in the context of the political process led by the United Nations,” said the statement.

“He further calls on the parties to adhere to their obligations under the ceasefire agreement and to respect both the letter and the spirit of it,” the statement added.

The situation in the Guerguerat area of Western Sahara, inside the Buffer Strip, remained tense in early September last year, with road construction activity initiated by Morocco in the area south of the Berm being opposed by Frente Polisario, reports said.

Western Sahara is located on the northwest coast of Africa bordered by Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria. The colonial administration of Western Sahara by Spain ended in 1976. Fighting later broke out between Morocco and the Polisario Front. A ceasefire was signed in September 1991.

MINURSO was deployed that year to monitor the ceasefire between the government of Morocco and the Polisario Front and organizing, if the parties agree, a referendum on self-determination in Western Sahara.

A revised settlement plan was proposed by the United Nations after seven years of diplomatic consultations was rejected by one of the parties in 2004. In approving the current phase of direct negotiations in 2007, the UN Security Council called for “a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political settlement which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.”

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