Morocco has announced the withdrawal of its forces from a
U.N. buffer zone in the disputed Western Sahara territory, where for months they had been in a standoff with troops from the Polisario independence movement.
The military moves last year were one of the most tense in recent years between Morocco and Polisario, which declared an independent republic in the desert land in the 1970s and fought a guerrilla war with Morocco until a 1991 ceasefire.
The standoff in Guerguerat began last year when U.N. troops stepped in after Moroccan gendarmerie crossed beyond Moroccan-controlled areas in what they said was a road clearing operation, prompting the mobilization of Polisario forces.
Morocco’s announcement took place days after a phone call between Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
Rich in phosphate, Western Sahara has been contested since 1975 when Spanish colonial powers left. Morocco claimed the territory and fought the 16-year war with Polisario before signing the U.N. ceasefire that foresaw a referendum on self-determination. But that vote has never happened.