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RABAT: Morocco’s prime minister has said that US-led multi-nation African military exercises this month would take place in the disputed desert region of Western Sahara.

Last year, under former US president Donald Trump, Washington recognised Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara — after Rabat normalised relations with Israel — sparking anger from the separatist Polisario Front.

The training, which the US Africa Command (Africom) says is its largest annual exercise, “marks the consecration of American recognition of the Moroccan Sahara”, Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani said on Twitter last week. Africom says the “African Lion” manoeuvres will involve more than 7,000 troops from nine nations, without giving further details of contributing countries.

Morocco laid claim to the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony with rich phosphate resources and offshore fisheries, after Spain withdrew in 1975.

The Polisario Front took up arms to demand independence there, proclaiming the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in 1976 and fighting a 16-year war with Morocco. Othmani said the exercises would take place at two sites in Western Sahara, including the eastern Mahbes region — where Polisario regularly claim conflict in recent months — and Dakhla, where Rabat plans to develop a large Atlantic port. Sahrawi foreign minister Mohamed Salem Ould Salek however dismissed the report as a “completely false rumour”.