Algeria rules out talks on W Sahara

Algeria has ruled out talks with Morocco as a way to resolve their dispute over the fate of Western Sahara.

    The dispute has affected ties between Morocco and Algeria

    Ambassador to Algeria, Abd Allah Baali said Rabat should instead accept a plan for the desert territory, set out by the United Nations.
     
    "The ball is in Morocco's court. We have absolutely no intention whatsoever to have talks with Morocco on Western Sahara," Baali said.
     
    He spoke as the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution giving Morocco, Algeria and the Polisario Front independence movement until 31 January 2004, to strike a deal that could resolve their differences over the territory.

    The future of Western Sahara, which is rich in phosphates and may also have offshore oil deposits, has been undetermined since it was seized by Morocco in 1975, after winning
    independence from Spain.

    Guerrilla war

    The Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, fought a guerrilla war with Morocco from 1976 to 1991, in hopes of regaining independence for the vast territory.
     
    Since 1991, a UN peacekeeping mission has been trying to stage a referendum on independence, but Morocco flatly opposes such a vote, and the mission has been plagued by delays.

    The territorial dispute has been the main stumbling block to full normalization of ties between Morocco and Algeria, neighbours whose shared border has been closed since 1994.

    UN breakthrough

    Burns (L) held talks with Morocco
    and Algerian leader Bouteflika(R) 

    In a breakthrough this year, former US Secretary of State James Baker, the UN special envoy for Western Sahara, put forward a compromise plan that won the support of Algeria and the Polisario Front, but not Morocco.
     
    Baker's proposal would make the territory a semi-autonomous part of Morocco for a transition period of four to five years.

    A referendum then would let residents choose independence, continued semi-autonomy or integration with Morocco.

    Open to talks 

    Following a visit to both countries by US Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, Moroccan officials hinted they were now open to talks with Algeria, outside the UN framework, in hopes of a further compromise on the Baker plan.

    Burns told reporters in Rabat on Tuesday that contacts between Rabat and Algiers "should complement UN efforts" and said Washington did not want to impose a solution on Morocco.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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