Wide Angle

New road linking Morocco's Es-Smara to Mauritania under construction

After a six-year delay, Morocco appears to be moving forward with the construction of a new road connecting Es-Smara to Mauritania. The current international climate and the situation on the ground are seemingly considered favorable for completing the project.

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Morocco has begun construction of a new road connecting the Moroccan city of Es-Smara to Mauritania, confirmed a source close to the project to Yabiladi.

The project was first announced in September 2018 by then-Minister of Equipment and Transport, Abdelkader Amara, during a visit to the Laayoune-Sakia El Hamra region. This announcement followed the opening of the Tindouf-Zouerate border crossing between Algeria and Mauritania just a few weeks prior.

According to the source, the new road will connect the town of Amgala to Mauritania, with work already underway by Royal Armed Forces (FAR) engineers to prepare the site for the next construction phase.

The proposed route of the new road intersects with the location of a United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) Team-Site. «Morocco is seeking a relocation of this observation point for the UN peacekeepers», the source specified.

Reducing the buffer zone

The proposed road to Mauritania, upon completion, could significantly impact the Western Sahara conflict. Morocco views it as a way to reduce the buffer zone and potentially limit Polisario actions in the area.

This stems from the 1991 ceasefire agreement, where King Hassan II had placed the land east of the Sand Wall under UN (MINURSO) supervision. However, tensions arose as Polisario used the territory for activities like military parades and receiving foreign delegations in Bir Lahlou, their self-proclaimed «capital». This situation continued until the 2020 intervention by the Royal Armed Forces (FAR) at the El Guerguerate crossing and the subsequent use of drones to counter Polisario attacks.

This new road's construction hinges on the approval of Mauritania's highest authorities, as it necessitates them guaranteeing user safety. This could potentially strain their neutral stance between Morocco and Algeria, especially considering President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani's policy of maintaining a delicate balance between both nations.

Notably, discussions regarding roads between the two countries recently took place in Rabat, with Mauritanian Minister of Equipment Mohamed Aly Ould Sidi Mohamed meeting his Moroccan counterpart, Nizar Baraka.

While Polisario and Algeria haven't yet formally addressed the road project, Morocco's UN ambassador, Omar Hilale, emphasized the Kingdom's desire to revert to the pre-ceasefire situation, which they claim Polisario violated in 2020.

Previously, in January, Polisario leader Brahim Ghali warned of «reckless behavior» by Morocco, hinting at potential consequences. Notably, Algeria hasn't formally brought the issue before the UN Security Council.

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