Morocco strengthens its presence in the Guerguerat pass

In the image, the entrance to the Moroccan border post from where travelers and vehicles bound for Mauritania pass. EFE / Mohamed Siali

Guerguerat (Western Sahara), Nov 20 (EFE) .- One year after Guerguerat’s military operation, which broke a decades-long ceasefire in Western Sahara, Morocco has reinforced its presence with the installation of a checkpoint in the so-called “buffer zone” between the Saharawi and Mauritanian territories.
Efe has been able to verify in situ the changes in this step since the Moroccan operation launched on November 13, 2020 to expel the militants of the Polisario Front, who had been blocking the road that crosses the strip of no man’s land for several weeks – “buffer zone “- between the two borders.
From that moment, the Polisario broke the truce agreed with Morocco in 1991 and the tensions between the latter country and Algeria – which is home to the Sahrawi pro-independence authorities and its refugee camps – have reached levels never seen in decades.
On November 9, four days before the anniversary of the Guerguerat clashes, Morocco authorized travelers, and not only professional carriers, to cross that border, which had been closed for months as a result of the pandemic. Efe has been the first media outlet to do so since that reopening.
The pass is made up of two border posts, one on the Sahara side and the other on the Mauritanian side, with a stretch of almost four kilometers of sandy desert in between.
In the last year, Morocco has allowed urban projects to build a border town in the Saharawi part, authorizing the opening of new gas stations (there were two and in the last year three have been added), commercial premises, money transfer agencies, restaurants and butchers, and even a mosque that is under construction.
But their movements to settle on the border, considered illegal by the Polisario as it is not among the steps recognized by the UN, began long ago.
Three years before the military operation in November 2020, Morocco paved the first two and a half kilometers of road in the “buffer zone”, while the rest, on the Mauritanian side, is still a dirt track.
In the last year, Morocco has extended its influence over the buffer zone by establishing a checkpoint at the end of the road where the asphalt ends, made up of two large metal containers. It is run by agents of the Moroccan Gendarmerie, who inspect all vehicles with police dogs.
Today going through Guerguerat is like doing it through any other border point. Moroccan security services register travelers’ luggage, control their travel documents and put the entry or exit stamp in a routine and fluid environment.
In the surrounding areas, on the other hand, a large Moroccan and Mauritanian military presence is perceived on both sides of the border to prevent infiltrations by Polisario fighters and prevent sub-Saharan immigrants from passing through.
After crossing the no man’s zone, the Mauritanian border complies with all security and customs control requirements. This country has benefited from Moroccan aid to pave another road that connects its border with the strategic route Nouadhibou-Nouakchott.
The pass opens at nine in the morning and closes at seven in the afternoon. Although most of its users are freight trucks that circulate between Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa, there are also passengers from countries in the region and even some tourists opening the opening to visitors.
A minibus operates along the few kilometers that separate the two border posts, but mostly illegal Mauritanian taxi drivers who do not enter the territory controlled by Morocco but do so comfortably in Mauritania.
Mohamed Maalainein is one of them. A retired military man, he explains to Efe that he has been working for 20 years taking people from one side of the “buffer zone” to the other. He thinks the area has improved with the asphalting of the race and increased safety.
A 40-year-old Moroccan transporter, Hicham Zine, assures that the drivers “suffered abuse by the Polisario”, which considers the part of the former Spanish colony under Moroccan control as an occupied zone.
“They forced you to give them money, they left you blocked and waiting without any justification and if you had any symbol of Morocco they forced you to remove it,” he says.
The regulars of the pass called the “buffer zone” Kandahar, comparable in their eyes to the chaos that the Afghan city was experiencing under the Taliban. Ahmed A., another Moroccan truck driver sums it up: “We suffered a lot in Kandahar. Sometimes, in order to get through, you had to pay criminals who forced us to give them 500 dirhams (about 50 euros).”
Mohamed Siali

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