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French Version

Morocco to consult population on Western Sahara

Al-AYOUN, Western Sahara: Morocco will consult the people of Western Sahara on the plan to give the territory greater autonomy which it is to submit to the United Nations soon, Communications Minister Nabil Benabdellah said Wednesday.

On the other side is the Polisario Front, which fought a guerrilla war for the territory until a 1991 cease-fire and expects that a referendum will back its declaration of an independent state 30 years ago.

Rabat, which annexed the largely desert but phosphate-rich territory after colonial rulers Spain pulled out in 1975, is proposing wider autonomy but rejects UN demands for self-determination by a referendum. "The process of consultation begun on March 11 with Morocco's political parties will be widened to the Sahrawi people, notably through the Consultative Council for Saharan Affairs," Benabdellah, the government spokesman, told AFP.

Benabdellah was speaking during a visit by Morocco's King Mohammad VI to Al-Ayoun, the territory's main city.

He said Morocco's offer was final and Rabat could not improve on it.

"The great powers support the idea of a political solution," he said, calling on "dialogue" to end the conflict for good.

But he said that Rabat's submission of its autonomy plan to the United Nations, originally scheduled for next month, could be delayed for several weeks.

"The political parties must hand their responses to the king by March 31, then we must draw up an analysis," he said.

"The main thing is that Morocco is committed to make proposals on autonomy, and will do it as soon as possible after the end of the consultations." The UN-sponsored cease-fire in 1991 was supposed to have been followed by a referendum on self-determination, but Rabat failed to comply, initially raising objections over who was entitled to vote.

It has since dismissed UN proposals that the referendum followed a five-year period of autonomy for the 266,000 square kilometers of desert flatlands on Africa's northwestern coast.

Morocco has refused to join the pan-continental African Union because it recognizes the Polisario-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, like some 70 governments across the world.

Casablanca,03 27 2006
The Daily Star
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