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Tuesday, 5 March, 2002, 18:32 GMT
Moroccan king visits Western Sahara
Tent city in Western Sahara
Polisario has been fighting for independence since 1976
King Mohammed VI of Morocco has begun a two-day tour of Western Sahara, in a move officials say asserts Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory.

It is King Mohammed's second visit there in the past four months.

The Polisario Front, which seeks independence for Western Sahara, described the trip as "a provocative expedition."

The territory was annexed by Morocco after the former colonial power, Spain, pulled out in 1975 and its status has remained in dispute ever since.
Soldier in the Western Sahara
Despite the ceasefire, peace talks are deadlocked

There has been no serious fighting since both sides signed an agreement in 1991 to settle the Western Sahara issue through a referendum.

But voting has never taken place because of disagreements between Morocco and the Polisario Front about who is eligible to take part.

Last year, the UN Secretary General 's special representative on Western Sahara, James Baker, presented a plan that would give the region limited autonomy for about four years under Moroccan sovereignty.

Morocco has backed the plan, while Polisario has rejected it.

In January the Polisario Front released 115 Moroccan prisoners of war.

See also:

17 Jan 02 | Middle East
Polisario releases Moroccan POWs
27 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Morocco
03 Dec 01 | Africa
Chirac stirs tension in Sahara
23 Nov 01 | Africa
Polisario calls for royal talks
01 Mar 01 | Africa
Sahara refugees' long wait
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