Western Sahara

Ban calls for autonomy in disputed Western Sahara

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New York_(dpa) _ Morocco and the Polisario Front, both of which claim Western Sahara, should settle their dispute by accepting autonomy of the territory that was once a Spanish colony, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday.

Morocco wants to integrate the territory, while the Polisario, which fought Morocco decades ago, are calling for an independent state.

The UN Security Council had been calling for a referendum in Western Sahara and let the inhabitants there decide whether they would agree integration with Morocco or let the once armed Polisario lead the territory as a new independent state.

Ban said in a report to the council that the parties failed in the most recent round of negotiations to agree on the definition of self-determination, which is considered the only way to settle their claim.

The talks in Manhasset, New York, in mid-June were also attended by envoys from neighbouring Algeria and Mauritania.

Ban said although those parties respected the principle of self-determination, their positions remained "far apart on the definition of self-determination."

Despite the negative assessment of the talks, Ban said Morocco's seriousness in the talks should be tested. He called for flexibility and sacrifice from the two sides, saying Morocco should accept autonomy for Western Sahara and not try to integrate it.

He also urged the Polisario to accept autonomy and drop the call for independence for the territory.

"If the negotiations are to lead to a positive outcome, both parties must recognize that the question of sovereignty is, and always has been, the main stumbling block in this dispute, and it is in this highly sensitive area that a solution will need to be found," he said in a report to the council.

The council also had refused to impose a solution, calling for self-determination. The Polisario, which received support from Algeria in its armed conflict against Morocco decades ago, supported the referendum.

Ban said a second round of talks is scheduled to begin on August 10 under the mediation of Ambassador Peter van Walsum of the Netherlands. The contents of the discussion in mid-June were not made public, because the parties attending the talks were asked for their confidentiality.

Plans for the referendum, set more than 10 years ago, were never implemented because neither Morocco nor the Polisario agreed on how to conduct them.

Ban urged UN members to lend support in pressuring the contenders to the former Spanish territory to end the dispute by showing flexibility and making sacrifices. dpa tn aw

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