No breakthrough in W Sahara talks

Morocco and Polisario Front separatist movement fail to make any progress in UN-brokered talks on the region’s future.

The camp was set up  in a protest against the deterioration of living standards  [AFP]

The third round of informal talks between the Polisario Front and Morocco on Western Sahara’s future has ended near New York with both sides only agreeing to meet again, UN officials have said.

The Polisario Front

 The Polisario Front was founded in Zouirat, Mauritania in 1973 as a Sahrawi movement seeking independence for the Saquia el Hamra and Wad e-dahab territories from Spanish colonisation.

  The name of the Polisario Front came from the Spanish abbreviation of Frente Popular de Liberation de Saquia el Hamra y Rio de Oro (Popular Front for the liberation of Saquia el Hamra and Rio del Oro).

 The armed struggle turned against Morocco after the former Spanish colony was retrieved by Rabat in 1975 under a three-party agreement signed between Spain, Morocco and Mauritania in Madrid.

“Morocco and Polisario engaged in broad and frank discussions on each other’s proposals on Western Sahara in an atmosphere of mutual respect despite the fact that each party continues to reject the proposal of the other as a basis for future negotiations,” Christopher Ross, the UN’s special envoy to the region, said on Tuesday.

“The participants agreed to convene again in December as well as early next year,” he added.

The UN-brokered peace talks began on an angry note on Monday at Greentree in the New York suburbs, as the Polisario Front rebel group condemned a Moroccan security force raid on Monday on a Western Sahara camp they saw as an attempt to derail the talks.

The raid left 11 civilians dead and 70 injured according to a statement released by the Polisario in Algeria, while Morocco said that six of its security force members and only one civilians were killed.

The Gdaim Izik camp, which housed 12,000 Saharawis, had sprung up outside Laayoune, the main town in Western Sahara, four weeks ago, in protest against the deterioration of living conditions in the area.

The violence later spread to the streets of Laayoune itself. Protesters, including women and children, said security forces attempting to shut down the camp used tear gas and beat them with batons.

Morocco said the camp had been stormed to release people being held against their will.

The Polisario Front accused the security forces of injuring hundreds of people in the dawn raid.

Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, the foreign minister in a self-appointed government for the region, said the attack “left hundreds of wounded”.

Mustapha Khalfi, publisher of the Moroccan daily Attajdid, said that the Polisario movement had “politicised” what had begun as a protest over social rights.

The outbreak of violence risked affecting talks in the short term, he told Al Jazeera.

“This social protest will have a negative impact on the negotiations,” he said.

Stalled negotiations

Western Sahara was annexed by Morocco in 1975 after the Spain withdrew from the area.

The Polisario Front fought against Moroccan rule until the UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991.

The Polisario Front wants a UN-organised self-determination referendum, with independence as one of the options.

Morocco has so far rejected any proposal that goes beyond greater autonomy.

The clashes came two weeks after Al Jazeera was expelled from the country, for its coverage of a range of issues including the Western Sahara.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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