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Friday, 23 November, 2001, 10:50 GMT
Polisario calls for royal talks
Polisario Front guerrillas
Polisario says they will defend right for independence with every means possible, including war
By David Bamford in Rabat

The leader of the Polisario movement, which is seeking an independent state in the Western Sahara, has called on the King of Morocco to meet him for direct talks on resolving the 26-year sovereignty dispute.

Mr Mohammed Abdelaziz issued the call in Spain where he is due to attend a solidarity meeting this weekend with European supporters of Saharan self-determination.

King Mohammed of Morocco
Meeting could take place on neutral venue

But the meeting seems likely to further raise tension between Morocco and Spain after a series of diplomatic wrangles between the two countries.

Mr Abdelaziz said he was willing to meet with king Mohammed the Sixth, at a neutral venue. The two sides last met directly in 1996 before King Mohammed assumed the throne.

But the process broke down over disagreement about voter eligibility for a proposed referendum of self-determination.

Plan rejected

Morocco had administered the disputed territory since the colonial power, Spain withdrew in 1976, but the international community does not recognise Moroccan sovereignty.

Mr Abdelaziz said that if the United Nations failed to bring about the referendum, the Saharans will defend their rights with every means possible, and that, he said, includes war.

Kofi Annan visiting Western Sahara
Annan says referendum has proved impossible to organise

Polisario has rejected a new plan put forward in June by the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, that would make the Western Sahara a semi-autonomous region within Morocco.

Mr Annan argues the referendum has proved impossible to organise.

The five-month period given to Mr Annan by the UN Security Council to get the parties to agree in principle to the plan expires on 30 November.

Spanish tension

Mr Annan has just asked for a two-month extension.

The Moroccans who like the new plan are resentful that Spain is using its diplomatic weight to block its progress.

This is just one of a catalogue of issues that is causing tension between the two Mediterranean neighbours.

The planned Saharan solidarity meeting due to take place in Seville this weekend will do nothing to ease the situation.

See also:

31 Aug 01 | Africa
Polisario mull UN peace plan
19 Apr 00 | Media reports
Morocco's TV clampdown
07 Jan 01 | Africa
Polisario withdraw rally threat
17 Jun 00 | Africa
Annan meets Moroccan king
07 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Morocco
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