King Mohammed began his visit to Laayoun, the largest city in the Western Sahara, on Monday. He inaugurated several projects on Tuesday at a total cost of $220 million.

 

The visit followed the commemoration of the Algeria-backed Polisario Separatist movement of the 30th anniversary of the so-called the Sahrawi republic in the buffer zone on February 28.

 

In a letter of protest addressed to Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, Morocco denounced the festivities as a provocative measure, accusing Algeria and the Polisario of increasing tension in the region.

 

Some analysts consider the trip of the Moroccan monarch to the Western Sahara a tit-for-tat measure to counter the Polisario move and a step to win local support for the autonomy plan for the territory.

 

The plan

 

The Moroccan state news agency MAP said: "[King Mohammed's trip] is also aimed at bolstering Morocco's diplomatic offensive which seeks to better explain the kingdom's vision about a final settlement to this arbitrary conflict over the Moroccan Sahara."

 

" [King Mohammed's trip] is also aimed at bolstering Morocco's diplomatic offensive which seeks to better explain the kingdom's vision about a final settlement to this arbitrary conflict over the Moroccan Sahara"

Moroccan state news agency MAP

The king is set to meet leaders of local tribes as part of Rabat's efforts to win over the local population and reduce any support the Polisario might have among the Sahrawis.

 

It is also thought that he will wrap up his trip in the Western Sahara with a speech on Saturday in which he may outline his vision of the territory's autonomy.

 

The proposal is to provide the territories with a large autonomy within the framework of a united and sovereign Morocco.

 

Concerns

 

Morocco will present the details of the proposal to Annan,next month.

   

The Western Sahara is Africa's
oldest territorial dispute

The Rabat government hopes to win UN support for its autonomy plan, though the Polisario has rejected it.  

 

The United States, France and Spain have all pressed for a quick end to the dispute.

 

They fear that the belt of countries between North Africa and the states south of the Sahara, also called as Sahel, could become a breeding ground for terrorism if a compromise is not reached over the conflict.  

 

The dispute

 

The Western Sahara is Africa's longest-running territorial dispute. It goes back to 1975 when Morocco regained the former Spanish colony after the Madrid Accords signed by Spain, Mauritania and Morocco.

 

Rebels from the Polisario Front then waged a desert war to gain independence.

 

The fighting ended in 1991 with a UN-negotiated ceasefire that called for a referendum on whether the Western Sahara should remain under Rabat's control or become an independent state, as sought by the Polisario.

   

But disputes about who is eligible to vote have prevented the referendum from taking place.

 

Morocco considers Algeria a direct party in the dispute, as Algiers hosts the Polisario Front on its territories and backs its claim for independence.