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Thursday, 17 January, 2002, 18:51 GMT
Polisario releases Moroccan POWs
Moroccan prisoners of wars
Some of the POWs have spent more than 25 years in jail
David Bamford

The International Red Cross in Geneva has confirmed that the Polisario independence movement has released 115 Moroccan prisoners of war.

The Moroccans are being flown to Agadir in Morocco from the Polisario camps in south western Algeria.

Among them are some of the longest-serving prisoners of war in the world.

Many of them were captured in the opening stages of the armed conflicts that began in 1975 and 1976 as Polisario began its military struggle with Morocco for control of the Western Sahara.

Soldier in the Western Sahara
Despite the ceasefire political negotiations are deadlocked

An International Red Cross team arrived at the Polisario camps a few days ago to interview all the prisoners to confirm they all did indeed wish to return to Morocco.

Their names have already appeared in the Moroccan press, in some cases the first confirmation for their families in a quarter of a century that their loved ones were still alive.

Thursday morning, the prisoners were being bussed from the Polisario camps to the airport at nearby Tindouf in south western Algeria for the short flight to Agadir in southern Morocco.

1,500 captives

Polisario are thought to be holding about 1,500 more captured Moroccan soldiers.

The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has called for all of them to be allowed to go home.

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.

See also:

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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