/ 20 December 2007

Polisario says risk of war if talks fail

War may break out again in Western Sahara if United Nations-sponsored talks between Morocco and the Polisario Front independence movement fail, Polisario said on Friday.

A third round of UN-brokered talks to resolve Africa’s longest-running territorial dispute are set for January 7 to 9 in Manhasset, New York.

Polisario said Morocco had a ”precious opportunity for a just and definitive peace”.

”The Moroccan government will assume the full consequences that would result from the failure of the negotiating process and notably the resumption of military hostilities”, the Algerian official news agency APS quoted a Polisario statement as saying.

The declaration came at the end of Polisario’s congress in the military desert outpost of Tifariti, held every three to four years.

Peacekeepers have watched over Western Sahara since 1991 when the United Nations brokered a ceasefire to end a guerrilla war between Polisario and Morocco, which annexed the resource-rich North-West African territory in 1975.

The ceasefire terms included holding a referendum to let the inhabitants decide their future but it never took place. Rabat now rules out such a vote and has French support for its proposal for self-rule under Moroccan sovereignty.

”At the same time as blocking various peace plans, Morocco continues to repress and to attack civil populations in the occupied territories with a rare violence …,” APS cited Polisario as saying.

It criticised UN peacekeepers in Western Sahara for failing to stop human rights violations by Morocco and said France was at fault for encouraging Morocco’s ”rebellion against international law”.

A spokesperson at Morocco’s Foreign Ministry said he had no immediate comment.

The Moroccan government denies mistreating independence activists and says most ethnic Sahrawis are willing to accept its autonomy plan. – Reuters