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UN's W.Sahara envoy meets with Polisario chief in Algeria

By AFP
Algeria A Sahrawi family in a refugee camp on the outskirts of the southwestern Algerian city of Tindouf, seen here in this February 27, 2021 photograph.  By RYAD KRAMDI AFP
JAN 16, 2022 LISTEN
A Sahrawi family in a refugee camp on the outskirts of the southwestern Algerian city of Tindouf, seen here in this February 27, 2021 photograph. By RYAD KRAMDI AFP

The UN's new Western Sahara envoy met Sunday with the leader of the pro-independence Polisario Front in neighbouring Algeria, state media reported, as part of his first official regional tour.

Staffan de Mistura, a former UN envoy to Syria, met the Polisario's Brahim Ghali in a camp for Sahrawi refugees outside the desert town of Tindouf, Algeria's official APS news agency said.

The Polisario chief told the envoy that his organisation sought "a just and fair solution" that "guarantees the Sahrawi people their right to self-determination and full national independence", APS reported.

The Polisario Front, which took up arms in the 1970s to seek independence in the disputed Western Sahara, demands an independence referendum on the basis of a 1991 deal that included a ceasefire.

Morocco sees the former Spanish colony, with access to lucrative phosphate resources and rich Atlantic fisheries, as its sovereign territory.

It has offered limited autonomy but rejected calls for independence.

Neighbouring Algeria backs the Polisario.

The last UN-led talks, under De Mistura's predecessor Horst Kohler, were held in Switzerland in 2019, in a roundtable format including Morocco, the Polisario, Algeria and Mauritania.

Algiers has since refused to take part in further roundtable discussions.

De Mistura met with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita in Rabat on Thursday.

Moroccan officials reiterated the kingdom's "commitment to the resumption of the political process conducted under the exclusive auspices of the UN to achieve a political solution" based on a Moroccan plan for autonomy, the official MAP agency reported.

Map of northern Africa locating Algeria and Morocco..  By  AFP Map of northern Africa locating Algeria and Morocco.. By AFP

The Polisario in late 2020 declared the decades-old ceasefire null and void, after Moroccan forces entered no man's land to break a Sahrawi blockade of a highway linking Moroccan-controlled territory with Mauritania.

Shortly after, the US administration of then-president Donald Trump recognised Morocco's sovereignty over the territory in a quid pro quo for Rabat's normalising ties with Israel.

De Mistura's trip follows months of heightened tensions between Morocco and Algeria.

Algiers broke off diplomatic ties with Rabat in August, citing "hostile" actions by Morocco, which the kingdom denies.

De Mistura is due to finish his tour in Mauritania on Wednesday.

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