Mohammed VI met the 140 members of the Consultative Council for Saharan Affairs, headed by Khalli Henna Ould Errachid, former minister of Saharan affairs and a member of the influential Rguibat tribe.
  
The king said in a speech on Saturday in El Ayoun, the  territory's main city, that he would be "particularly attentive" to the advice and suggestions of the council, which he called on to be "an effective institution of development" in the territory.

Rabat, which annexed the largely desert but phosphate-rich territory after colonial rulers Spain pulled out in 1975, is  proposing wider autonomy but rejects the UN demands for  self-determination by a referendum.

On the other side is the Polisario Front, which fought a guerrilla war for the territory until a 1991 ceasefire, and expects that a referendum will back its declaration of an independent state made 30 years ago.

Prisoners pardoned

On his last day in the territory, the Moroccan king granted pardons to 216 Sahrawi prisoners, including 30 activists  involved in the independence movement.

The freed included Ali Salem Tamek, who has spoken out in several Moroccan newspapers in favour of an independent Western Sahara.

Earlier on Saturday, in response to the king's speech, the head of Polisario, Mohamed Abdelaziz, appeared on Aljazeera and repeated his demand for "the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination".

Abdel Aziz: Sahrawis have the
right to self-determination

He denounced the Moroccan government, which he said was "blocking a solution to the problem of Western Sahara".

The Moroccan monarch has already consulted his country's political parties, which are set to decide on the proposal for Western Sahara's autonomy on Friday.

To the king, the autonomy proposal represents "a just solution". 

It guarantees autonomy, which according to the king, will give the people of Western Sahara the opportunity "to manage their regional affairs in a democratic way."

Projects launched

Since arriving in the territory on Monday, the king has inaugurated a number of projects to improve drinking water supply, the fishing
 industry, housing and roads costing a total of two billion Moroccan dirhams ($220 million).

The king also said the autonomy proposal would help to resolve the issue of Western Sahara which has divided the north African region's Arab Maghreb Union, hindering efforts to foster economic and political integration.

The Polisario front was recognised as member of the Organisation of African Unity, OAU, in 1984, a step that angered Rabat and caused Morocco to leave the OAU. 

 

Rabat also refused to join OAU's successor, the African Union, in 2002, for the same reason, making Morocco the only country in Africa which is not a member of the pan-continental organisation.