A spokesman for the Moroccan government spokesman has said that there can be no solution to the Sahara conflict without the active involvement of Algeria. "It is Algeria," added Mustapha El-Khalfi, "which assumes the responsibility for the continuation of the conflict."
El-Khalfi made his comment yesterday during the "First National Conference on Civic Advocacy of the Moroccan Sahara" held in Marrakech. "Morocco will not give up the search for a political solution to the artificial conflict," he insisted. "There is a new discourse that promotes fake hopes to make decisions against Morocco in the Sahara file, and we will face it firmly."
This is the first forum of its kind organised by the Moroccan government. Lasting for three days and including five seminars, it aims to strengthen the capacity of civil society to defend Morocco's position over the Sahara issue through the use of modern media. Ministers, academics and civil society activists are taking part in the programme.
The forum coincides with a visit to the region by the UN Secretary-General's Personal Envoy to the Sahara, Horst Koehler. He is due to arrive today and will stay until 1 July. During his time in the Maghreb, Koehler is expected to visit Algeria, the Tindouf refugee camps, the Rabouni region of the Polisario Front in south-west Algeria, Mauritania and the cities of Laayoune, Smara and Dakhla in southern Morocco. Since his appointment in August, Koehler has sought to move negotiations forward between Morocco and the Polisario about the decades-long conflict.
The dispute over this part of the Sahara began in 1975 after the Spanish ended their colonial occupation of what Morocco insists is its own territory. On 27 February 1976, the Polisario Front declared the unilateral establishment of the "Sahrawi Arab Republic", which was recognised by some states, but is not a member of the UN. Morocco and the Polisario took to arms to resolve the conflict until 1991. That stage of the dispute ended with the signing of a ceasefire agreement.
The government in Rabat has suggested that an expanded self-government under its sovereignty is the way forward. The Polisario, however, demands a referendum to determine the fate of the region, a proposal supported by Algeria, which hosts displaced people fleeing the territory.