Morocco says committed to WSahara truce

Members of the Sahrawi People's Liberation Army stand guard in the Algerian city of Tindouf, on June 3, 2016 (AFP Photo/Farouk Batiche)

Rabat (AFP) - Morocco's envoy to the United Nations has said Rabat is committed to a ceasefire in Western Sahara after the UN voiced fears of renewed hostilities in the disputed territory.

A 1991 UN-brokered truce ended 16 years of conflict between Morocco -- which maintains that Western Sahara is an integral part of its kingdom -- and the Algiers-backed Polisario Front independence movement.

But tensions flared in recent weeks after Morocco began road works in the Guerguerat area south of a buffer zone separating the two sides and close to the Mauritania border.

A confidential UN report sent to the Security Council in late August accused both Morocco and the Polisario of truce violations after they sent security forces and fighters into the buffer zone.

"The situation remains tense in the Guerguerat area of Western Sahara inside the buffer strip," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Wednesday.

"Any resumption of hostilities, with the potential to have wider regional implications, remains of significant concern to the UN," he said.

But ambassador Omar Hilale told the official Moroccan news agency MAP on Friday that the situation was under control, as he sought to ease UN concerns.

"Morocco is ready to confront any aggression, but at the same time it will observe restraint and remains committed to the ceasefire," Hilale said.

He said the work consists of rehabilitating a 3.5-kilometre (two-mile) stretch of road that had been used by "small arms traffickers, people smugglers, as well as drug and car traffickers".

Morocco has assured the Security Council that the work in Guerguerat is "purely civilian" and "limited in time", said Hilale.

But the work was "strategic" and Morocco was "determined" to complete it.

The UN spokesman said Wednesday that the construction has been met with resistance by Polisario Front fighters, who are separated from Moroccan troops by only around 120 metres (yards).

The UN is "actively engaging with the parties and key member states to urge restraint and identify options for an acceptable solution to the current crisis", Dujarric said.