Morocco announces decentralization to solve Sahara conflict

Other News Materials 7 November 2008 17:04 (UTC +04:00)

Moroccan politicians Friday welcomed a decentralization announced by King Mohammed VI as part of the search for a solution to the Western Sahara conflict, reported dpa.

Rabat was seeking "serious" negotiations under the United Nations to solve the three-decade conflict, which opposes Morocco to the Saharawi independence movement Polisario Front, government spokesman Khalid Naciri said.

The negotiations should, however, be based on an autonomy for the desert territory, instead of a 1991 UN plan for a regional referendum on independence, Naciri stressed.

In a speech to mark the 33th anniversary of the Green March with which Morocco claimed Western Sahara, King Mohammed announced a reform to transfer power to Western Sahara and other regions late Thursday.

He stressed the growing support of the international community and the UN for the "realistic" autonomy solution which could be adopted "rapidly" on a consensual basis.

Neighbouring Algeria, which backs Polisario, was trying to block the solution, Mohammed VI charged.

Algeria's refusal to open its frontier with Morocco and to normalize relations contributed to the danger of a "balkanization" in North Africa, the monarch said.

Mohammed VI announced the establishment of a consultative commission to propose a "general concept of regionalization," and tasked the government with drafting a decentralization charter including the creation of new provinces.

The reforms would imply an "effective break-up with the practice of rigid centralism," the king said.

The representatives of several political parties called for caution in applying the reform.

Moroccans needed to understand that decentralization could not lead to the independence of Western Sahara or any other region, said Mohammed Ziane of the Moroccan Liberal Party.

The Western Sahara conflict dates back to 1975, when Spain withdrew from what was then known as Spanish Sahara.

Morocco annexed two-thirds and Mauritania the rest of the desert territory. Polisario launched a war, driving Mauritania out in 1980. Morocco then snatched Mauritania's share as well.

The UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991.

The Green March of some 300,000 unarmed Moroccans into Western Sahara in 1975 remains one of the cornerstones of Moroccan nationalism.