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Iran Denies Morocco Accusation Of Arming Secessionists


An earthen wall divides the Western Sahara into two parts.

Iran's Foreign Ministry on May 2 denied it was arming a rebel group seeking independence for Western Sahara after Morocco severed diplomatic ties with Tehran over the allegations.

"Remarks attributed to the foreign minister of Morocco about cooperation between an Iranian diplomat and the Polisario Front" in Western Sahara are "false," the ministry said in a statement.

Rabat on May 1 cut ties with Tehran after Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita accused Iran and its Lebanese Shi'ite ally, Hizballah, of training and arming fighters of the Polisario Front, a Western Sahara independence movement, with surface-to-air missiles since 2016.

Bourita said he had just returned from Iran, where he personally informed his Iranian counterpart of the decision to end ties. Morocco's ambassador already has departed Tehran, while the Iranian Embassy in Morocco will be closed "immediately," he said.

Bourita said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was "in shock" after their discussion.

Hizballah issued a statement denying that it armed Polisario and accusing Morocco of acting under "pressure" from the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

The Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony that Morocco annexed in 1975. Polisario fought a guerrilla war for independence until a United Nations-backed cease-fire was established in 1991.

Algeria, Morocco's neighbor, hosts camps for people displaced by the conflict, including members of Polisario, but denies giving military aid to the group.

The Western Sahara has effectively been split by an earthen wall separating territory controlled by Polisario and an area controlled by Morocco. There is a UN-mandated buffer zone between them, and UN peacekeepers patrol the region.

Morocco also cut diplomatic ties with Shi'a-led Iran in 2009 after accusing it of undermining Sunni rule in Bahrain, a Gulf Arab island that has a majority Shi'ite population.

Diplomatic relations were restored in 2014, but they were never strong. Rabat enjoys close ties with Tehran's regional rival, Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters