U.S.'s Rice urges end to Western Sahara dispute

Other News Materials 8 September 2008 00:31 (UTC +04:00)

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged a resolution of the Western Sahara dispute on Sunday, saying she saw "good ideas" for solving an impasse that has long held back north Africa's development.

Rice, ending a regional tour that included a meeting with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli, said on a visit to staunch ally Morocco that further mediation could help end Africa's oldest territorial disagreement.

"It is time that it be resolved," she told reporters after talks in Rabat with Moroccan officials on issues including the decades-old dispute between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front independence movement.

"There will be a new round of talks soon. We are going to support that round, that mediation, there are good ideas on the table and there are ways to move forward."

"We don't need to start over. I hope that we can move forward and get this resolved."

The dispute over Western Sahara, which is rich in phosphates and fisheries and potentially has offshore oil, has poisoned relations between Morocco and Algeria and blocked badly-needed economic cooperation and growth in north Africa.

The issue also has divided the Security Council, with France and the United States backing Morocco but South Africa and others favouring Polisario. Washington wants Sahara's status resolved so regional states can focus on what it sees as the more important question of combating terrorism.

U.N.-brokered mediation has failed to break a deadlock over whether the territory should be an autonomous region of Morocco, as Rabat proposes, or have a referendum of its people to decide whether or not it should be independent, as Polisario wants.

Peter Van Walsum, the mediator who led the slow-moving talks since June 2007, left his job last month after angering Polisario by making comments that appeared to favour Morocco. U.N. officials in New York have said he will be replaced.

Algeria is the principal ally of Polisario and site of its headquarters. Like many African states, Algeria opposes Moroccan control of the territory and sees it as Africa's last colony, Reuters reported.