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Morocco cuts ties with Iran over support for rebels

Morocco expels Iranian ambassador after accusing Iran of supporting Polisario Front rebels in Western Sahara
Morocco accuses Iran of training Polisario Front separatists (AFP)

Morocco plans to cut its ties with Iran over alleged support for separatist rebels in Western Sahara region, the Moroccan foreign minister said on Tuesday.

The Iranian ambassador to Rabat will be expelled and its embassy closed down said Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, who claimed Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah had been training the Polisario Front, which fights for independence for the region south of Morocco.

Middle East Eye reported earlier in April that Morocco had asked neighbouring Algeria to reign in the Polisario fighters it hosts, accusing them of encroaching on a buffer zone separating Moroccan and Polisario-held parts of Western Sahara.

Bourita handed a letter from King Mohammed VI to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, expressing "the firm and determined rejection of these unacceptable provocations and incursions".  

The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) denied there had been any violation of the buffer zone, stating that "no movement of military elements" had been observed in this area.

Morocco claimed Western Sahara after colonial Spain left, but the Polisario fought a guerrilla war for independence for the Sahrawi people until a UN-backed ceasefire.

The Western Sahara region has effectively been split by an earthen wall separating an area controlled by Morocco that it claims as its southern provinces and territory controlled by the Polisario, with a UN-mandated buffer zone between them.

On Friday the UN Security Council backed a US-drafted resolution that urged Morocco and the Polisario Front to prepare for talks on settling the decades-old conflict.

It also renewed for six months the mandate of MINURSO.

Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict have been deadlocked since the last round of UN-sponsored talks in 2008.

Morocco maintains that negotiations on a settlement should focus on its proposal for autonomy for Western Sahara and rejects the Polisario's insistence on an independence referendum.