The Moroccan ambassador told reporters at the Moroccan embassy in the Qatari capital, Doha, that the Moroccan initiative was open to negotiations and expressed Rabat's readiness to discuss the plan with the Polisario Front to reach a final, mutually acceptable political solution to the 30-year-old dispute.

 

 The briefing was part of Morocco's drive to familiarise other countries with the content of the initiative.

Tber reiterated that Morocco was ready to discuss only how to implement the autonomy plan, which he described as a genuine opportunity to the indigenous Sahara people to run their own affairs through various representative legislative, executive and judicial bodies under Moroccan sovereignty.

Polisario plan

The Moroccan envoy also rejected the Polisario Front's own plan, which the separatists submitted to the UN the same day Rabat presented its autonomy proposal.  

King Mohammed first revealed the autonomy plan
during his visit to W Sahara last year [AP]

"The separatists rejected the Moroccan initiative before even seeing the details and submitted their own plan as a stalling tactic to kill the Moroccan proposal and to deceive the international community," Tber said.

Polisario has put forward its own proposals for a settlement, saying it is ready to negotiate with Morocco on holding a referendum that would offer a choice between independence, autonomy or integration into Morocco.

Both proposals come as the big powers appear determined to push the two sides to the negotiating table and revive a peace process that has stagnated since a UN envoy, James Baker, left in 2004 after a referendum plan he proposed came to nothing.  

Fears  

 

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 known as Sahel, could become a breeding ground for terrorism if a compromise is not reached over the conflict.

 

The 15-member Security Council could call for direct negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario, something both sides now say they are ready for - but they remain divided on what the subject of such talks would be.

For Morocco, it would be the details of autonomy, but for the Polisario it is how to hold a referendum in which the Sahara people would be offered the choice of full independence.

The UN Security Council will also debate this month the mandate of the 220-strong UN peace-keeping mission in Western Sahara, which comes up for renewal.