"Mauritania sees that the best way to settle the dispute and prevent any recurrence is to find a consensus-based solution between the concerned parties," Mauritanian leader Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall told the Moroccan MAP news agency on Tuesday.

Vall is on a two-day visit to Morocco on the invitation of King Mohammed VI.

The Mauritanian head of state, who came to power in a bloodless coup in August, said his country wanted a solution that would be acceptable to Morocco and the Algerian-backed separatist movement Polisario.

Vall's statement reiterated his announcement on 16 October that Mauritania would remain neutral in the dispute.

The dispute

Morocco took control of the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara under the Madrid Accords signed with Spain and Mauritania in 1975. Under the agreement, the territory was divided between Morocco and Mauritania.

Morocco took over the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara in 1975, and the rest of the territory in 1979, after Mauritania's withdrawal.

King Mohammed VI seeks a
political solution

Mauritania, preoccupied with internal politics and drained by the separation war launched by the Polisario, signed a peace treaty with the guerrillas and withdrew.

Fighting between Morocco and the Polisario continued until a United Nations-sponsored truce took effect in 1991.

But a proposed referendum on self-determination has been postponed repeatedly.

Morocco has recently proposed granting autonomy to the region.

 

King Mohammed pledged Morocco's commitment to a solution "that would give self-rule to our southern provinces, and effectively enable their populations to manage their regional affairs themselves, within the framework of the kingdom's sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity".

The king said he sought a "negotiated political solution to the artificial dispute over the territory".

Maghreb union

The dispute has been an obstacle to progress in the Arab Maghreb Union, a North African regional grouping set up in 1989 and made up of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania.

Vall urged member states to set aside problems hampering the bloc's cooperation and pledged to "keep on working with all so as to arrive at a favourable climate and make things move forward".

The W Sahara dispute has slowed
Arab Maghreb Union cooperation

Vall's visit is his first trip abroad since the 3 August coup in which he toppled former president Maaoya Ould Sidi Ahmed Taya.

His stay in Morocco, which ends on Tuesday, was crowned by the signing of three agreements with Morocco on cooperation in drinking water, fisheries and agriculture.

In his first interview with foreign media, Vall told Aljazeera last week that his interim government was sticking to its promise to steer Mauritania towards democratic elections in the next 19 months.

He reiterated that none of the 17-member military council would be contestants in the elections.