Morocco has, on multiple occasions, reiterated its adherence to the ceasefire agreement but made it clear that it will respond firmly to any attacks by the separatists.

Morocco’s armed Forces thwarted on Wednesday an attempted infiltration by the Polisario militias and killed the separatist commander in charge, Moroccan, Algerian and Polisario media have reported.

Morocco has, on multiple occasions, reiterated its adherence to the ceasefire agreement but made it clear that it will respond firmly to any attacks by the separatists.

The Polisario Front confirmed its police chief had been killed in the disputed Western Sahara region, in a statement from the separatist group on Wednesday. The Polisario convoy was destroyed by a Moroccan drone near the security wall, the Algerian state radio station said.

“The commander of the national gendarmerie Addah Bendir fell on Tuesday as a martyr on the field of honour,” the Algeria-backed movement’s defence ministry said in a statement.

He “was on a military mission in the liberated zone of Rouss Irni, in Tifariti,” located in the north in Polisario-controlled territory, it added, without elaborating on the circumstances surrounding his death.

The statement had been released through official news agency SPS, which later removed it from its site without explanation. A local official had also confirmed the death to the media.

Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony, mostly under Rabat’s control, where tensions between Morocco and the Polisario Front have simmered since the 1970s.

Morocco has offered autonomy but maintains the territory is a sovereign part of the kingdom.

The Polisario fought a war with Morocco from 1975 to 1991 and its leaders proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in February 1976.

Wednesday’s statement said Bendir was born in the Tiress region in 1956 and joined the Polisario Front in 1978.

There was no immediate confirmation of the death from Moroccan authorities.

Several Moroccan media outlets had reported his demise on Wednesday morning, purportedly during a Polisario-led operation “to the east of the wall” of sand which separates the two sides.

Tensions rose sharply in November when Morocco sent troops into a buffer zone to reopen the only road leading from Morocco to Mauritania and the rest of West Africa, which the separatists had blocked the previous month.

The Polisario responded by declaring a 1991 UN-backed ceasefire null and void, arguing the road had not existed when the truce was signed and was therefore illegal.

The two sides have since exchanged regular fire along the demarcation line, though claims are difficult to verify independently in the hard-to-access area.

The Algeria-backed Polisario Front controls about a fifth of the vast, arid territory and is demanding a promised UN-run referendum on self-determination.

International legal opinion points to historical ties of allegiance by Sahara tribes to the Moroccan monarchy.