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Polisario: Morocco must accept Western Sahara independence

February 14, 2017 GMT

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Polisario Front said Tuesday that since Morocco has rejoined the African Union and accepted the group’s principles it must recognize Western Sahara’s independence — or it could face possible sanctions or even requests to leave the regional organization.

Ahmed Boukhari, the Polisario Front’s U.N. representative, said at a news conference that the independence movement will be watching what Morocco does between now and the next AU summit in July, which should give the bloc’s members an indication of its intentions.

“If they are going to play games, it’s not against the Western Sahara Republic, it’s against the African Union and they have a right to ask Morocco: Are you a member of our family or not?,” Boukhari said. “If not, there is a possibility of sanctions or even requests to Morocco to get out again.”

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Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in 1975 and fought the Polisario Front. The U.N. brokered a cease-fire in 1991 and established a peacekeeping mission to monitor it and help prepare a referendum on the territory’s future, which has never taken place.

Morocco’s deputy foreign minister, Nasser Bourita, told the website Le Desk on Feb. 5 that the kingdom would “never recognize” Western Sahara’s independence.

“Not only does Morocco not recognize — and will never recognize — this so-called entity, it will redouble its efforts so the small minority of countries, particularly African, which recognize it, change their positions,” Bourita said.

African leaders admitted Morocco as the AU’s 55th member at a summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Jan. 31. Morocco left the AU’s predecessor, the Organization of African Unity, in 1984 to protest Western Sahara’s admission as a full member — the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

Boukhari cited the African Union’s charter, which Morocco is now required to support. It states that “the AU shall function in accordance with the following principles: (a) sovereign equality and interdependence among member states of the union; (b) respect of borders existing on achievement of independence.”

Morocco, which gained independence from France in 1956, considers the mineral-rich Western Sahara its “southern provinces” and has proposed wide-ranging autonomy. The Polisario Front insists on self-determination through a referendum for the local population, which Boukhari estimated at between 350,000 and 500,000.

The Polisario representative said that so far he is “frustrated” at what Morocco is doing and its statements.

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“I hope that it will be just an accident,” Boukhari said. “I hope ... they will really engage in a very serious negotiation.”

He said the Polisario Front also hopes that Morocco joining the AU “can give the African Union and the United Nations a new motivation to increase their cooperation to resolve the conflict of Western Sahara.”