Morocco demands Western Sahara deal ‘based exclusively’ on its plan

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Rabat, Morocco.

Morocco’s top diplomat told the United Nations envoy for  Western Sahara Friday that any settlement of the decades-old dispute must be “based exclusively” on its autonomy plan.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura had travelled to the former Spanish colony on Monday for his first visit since taking office and met elected officials, and dignitaries and tribal chiefs.

His visit to the government-controlled cities of Laayoune and Dakhla saw him hold talks with independence activists as well as supporters of union with Morocco, Moroccan media reported.

Morocco has been emboldened by US recognition of its annexation of the territory, granted by the Donald Trump administration in late 2020 in return for its normalisation of relations with Israel.

In his talks with the UN envoy on Friday, Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita insisted that the only settlement Rabat would accept for the contested territory was autonomy within Morocco, not the independence the Algerian-backed Polisario Front has been pushing for since the last years of Spanish rule in the 1970s.

Bourita’s delegation called for “a political solution based exclusively on the Moroccan autonomy plan, in the framework of the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the kingdom”, a foreign ministry statement said.

A UN mission has been deployed in Western Sahara since 1991, tasked with organising a referendum on the territory’s future provided for by a ceasefire agreement between Morocco and the Polisario that year.

The referendum has never taken place, and in late 2020 the Polisario announced it was resuming fighting.

Morocco controls around 80 percent of Western Sahara, including all its main resources and population centres, while the Polisario controls a swathe of the desert interior.

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