Morocco has asked to rejoin the African Union (AU), 32 years after it quit the bloc in protest over a decision to make the disputed territory of Western Sahara a member.

In a message sent to an AU summit in the Rwandan capital of Kigali on Sunday, King Mohammed VI said it was time for Morocco to retake its place.

"For a long time our friends have been asking us to return to them so that Morocco can take up its natural place within its institutional family," he said in a speech to African leaders as they began a two-day meeting.

"The moment has now come." 

According to MAP, the official Moroccan news agency, the monarch said that although his country had left the organisation, "it never quit Africa." 


READ MORE: UN chief regrets Western Sahara 'occupation' comment 


Morocco considers Western Sahara an important part of the kingdom. The Sahrawi people's Polisario Front movement, which demands self-determination for Western Sahara, wants a referendum on independence.

Earlier this year, Morocco ordered the UN to pull out several of its staff members and to close down a military liaison office for the MINURSO peacekeeping mission in response to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's use of the term "occupation" to describe Morocco's presence in Western Sahara.

In his message, King Mohammed urged the AU to reconsider its stance on what he called the "phantom state", saying that a political solution was being worked on under the supervision of the UN.

A UN-Morocco spat over Western Sahara

Western Sahara is not a member of either the UN or the Arab League, he said, adding that "at least 34 countries do not recognise it.

"On the Sahara issue, institutional Africa can no longer bear the burden of a historical error and a cumbersome legacy," the King said.

"Through this historic act and return, Morocco wants to work within the AU to transcend divisions."

Morocco's return to the AU would need to be validated by a vote.

Source: AP