Morocco king says Sahara 'not negotiable'

Tensions rise as Algeria backs militant Polisario Front

Morocco's King Mohammed VI has said the Sahara region of Morocco "will never be up for negotiation" as tensions rise with Algeria.

Algeria has backed the Sahara's Polisario Front armed rebellion in the conflict.

"Today as in the past, Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara (region) will never be up for negotiation," the king said in a televised speech.

"If we engage in negotiations, it is essentially in order to reach a peaceful solution to this artificial regional conflict.”

Last week, Algeria accused Morocco of killing three Algerian civilians on a desert road in a Polisario-held area of the territory in a strike on their lorries.

Morocco has not officially commented on the accusation, but a source from the kingdom said "it has never targeted and will never target Algerian citizens, regardless of the circumstances and the provocations".

"If Algeria wants war, Morocco doesn't," the source, who requested anonymity, told AFP.

The Sahara region, 80 per cent of which is controlled by Morocco, has enormous phosphate reserves and rich Atlantic fishing grounds.

Algeria has long hosted and supported the Polisario Front, which seeks full independence for the territory and has demanded a UN-supervised self-determination referendum as provided for in a 1991 ceasefire deal.

In November, the Polisario declared the truce "null and void" after Moroccan forces broke up a blockade of a road into Mauritania, which the armed group movement said was built in breach of the ceasefire.

The Polisario has since launched multiple attacks on Moroccan forces, killing six Moroccan soldiers, according to a Moroccan source.

Tensions between Morocco and Algeria further escalated in August, when the latter broke off diplomatic ties with Rabat citing "hostile actions" — charges denied by Morocco.

Ties with Israel

In December last year, Morocco normalised diplomatic ties with Israel as part of the US-backed Abraham Accords while the administration of then president Donald Trump recognised the kingdom's sovereignty over the Sahara.

Last Sunday, Algeria ordered state energy firm Sonatrach to stop using a pipeline that traverses Morocco for gas exports to Spain.

To stake Morocco's claim, the king's father, Hassan II, sent 350,000 civilian volunteers on the iconic Green March into the territory in 1975.

Saturday's speech by the king marked its 46th anniversary.

It also came just over a week after the UN Security Council on October 29 called on all sides to resume negotiations towards a solution, as it renewed the UN mission in the Sahara region for one year.

Updated: November 7th 2021, 5:56 AM