Morocco severs ties with Iran, accuses it of backing Western Sahara independence movement Polisario Front

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita visiting the Netherlands on April 20, 2018.
Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita visiting the Netherlands on April 20, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

RABAT (REUTERS) - Morocco will sever diplomatic ties with Iran over Teheran's support for the Polisario Front, a Western Sahara independence movement, the Moroccan foreign minister said on Tuesday (May 1).

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

Morocco will close its embassy in Teheran and will expel the Iranian ambassador in Rabat, Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita told reporters.

He said that Iran and its Lebanese Shi'ite ally, Hezbollah, were supporting Polisario by training and arming its fighters, via the Iranian embassy in Algeria.

"Hezbollah sent military officials to Polisario and provided the front with ... weapons and trained them on urban warfare,"Bourita said.

Algeria, Morocco's neighbour, hosts camps of displaced from the conflict region and Polisario members. It was not immediately possible to get Iranian reaction to the Moroccan accusation. Iran has backed Polisario in the past.

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.

In 2009, Morocco cut diplomatic links with Iran, accusing it of questioning Sunni rule of Bahrain, a Gulf Arab island that has a Shi'ite majority. Ties were gradually restored around 2014, but they were never strong, with Rabat backing Teheran's arch-rival, Saudi Arabia.