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Morocco pulls troops from contested area of Western Sahara

King says decision was made after requests from UN and it now must protect area from 'repeated incursions' by Polisaro Front separatists
Rabat says Moroccan troops face 'provocation' by Polisario Front members (AFP)

Morocco said on Sunday it will pull back from a zone of the contested Western Sahara that has raised tensions with Algeria-backed Polisario Front separatists.

"Morocco will proceed from today with a unilateral withdrawal from the [Guerguerat] zone," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

It said the decision was taken by King Mohamed VI at the request of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Rabat now "hopes the secretary-general's intervention will allow a return to the previous situation in the zone concerned, keep its status intact, allow the flow of normal road traffic and thus safeguard the ceasefire," it said.

In a telephone call to Guterres on Friday, the king called on the UN to take urgent measures to end "provocation" by the Polisario Front threatening a 1991 ceasefire.

Morocco insists that the former Spanish colony is an integral part of its kingdom, but the Polisario is demanding a referendum on self-determination.

The two sides fought for control of the Western Sahara from 1974 to 1991, with Rabat gaining control of the territory before the UN-brokered ceasefire took effect.

In the phone call, Mohamed condemned "repeated incursion by armed Polisario men" in the Guerguerat district.

Tensions flared last year after the Polisario set up a new military post in Guerguerat district near the Mauritanian border, within a stone's throw of Moroccan soldiers.

The move came after Morocco last summer started building a tarmac road in the area south of the buffer zone separating the two sides.

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