Morocco urges return to W. Sahara roundtable talks

Morocco urges return to W. Sahara roundtable talks

A handout released by the Moroccan foreign ministry shows Morocco's Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita (R) receiving the UN secretary general's personal envoy for Western Sahara, Staffan de Mistura (L) in the capital Rabat
A handout released by the Moroccan foreign ministry shows Morocco's Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita (R) receiving the UN secretary general's personal envoy for Western Sahara, Staffan de Mistura (L) in the capital Rabat. Photo: - / Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs/AFP
Source: AFP

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Morocco called Tuesday for a return to regional roundtable talks on a peace deal over the Western Sahara, a format rejected by neighbouring Algeria which says it masks the nature of the conflict.

Morocco's top diplomat Nasser Bourita made the comments in a statement after a meeting with United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura.

The Moroccan officials told the UN diplomat that they remained committed to "the political process of roundtables" to reach a "realistic, pragmatic, sustainable and compromise-based" political solution, the statement read.

Such talks were last held in Switzerland in 2019 with top officials from Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and the Polisario movement which seeks independence for Western Sahara, but they were frozen after UN envoy Horst Kohler quit the post in May that year.

Algiers has rejected a return to the format, arguing that Morocco, by avoiding bilateral talks with the Polisario, is trying to portray the conflict as a "regional, artificial" one rather than one of "decolonisation".

Morocco controls some 80 percent of the Western Sahara and has long insisted it must retain sovereignty there, pitting it against the Polisario which demands a referendum on independence as agreed alongside a 1991 ceasefire deal.

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Tuesday's statement said that "the Moroccan delegation reiterated the constant position of Morocco (calling) for a political solution, based exclusively on the Moroccan autonomy initiative, within the framework of the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the kingdom."

That was a reference to a 2007 Moroccan plan for limited autonomy in the vast desert territory, which has rich phosphate resources and Atlantic fisheries but where the Polisario has demanded independence since colonial power Spain withdrew in 1975.

The group declared a 1991 ceasefire deal null and void in November 2020 after a Moroccan army operation to clear a blockaded highway.

Weeks later, the Trump administration recognised Moroccan sovereignty over the territory in exchange for Rabat restoring ties with Israel.

In August 2021, Algeria cut ties with Morocco, accusing it of "hostile acts".

The UN said Monday that De Mistura had cancelled a planned visit to the Western Sahara.

The Polisario said it "deeply regretted" the cancellation and accused Rabat of "preventing him from directly witnessing the situation on the ground in the occupied Saharawi territories".

On Tuesday, the UN said De Mistura had had "a useful meeting" with Bourita and could "definitely continue his mission".

"He didn't lose freedom of movement. The personal envoy is in control of where he goes and he will decide where he goes," said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric in New York.

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Source: AFP

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