Morocco and Polisario Front agree to new West Sahara talks next year
The parties locked in a long-standing conflict over Western Sahara took a step towards reviving negotiations last Thursday, as they agreed in Geneva to hold another round in the first quarter of next year.
Western Sahara is largely controlled by Morocco but also claimed by the Polisario Front movement, which seeks to hold an independence referendum.
The two-day UN-brokered talks in Geneva were the first in six years that were held between top diplomats from Morocco and the Polisario Front movement, as well as neighbouring Algeria and Mauritania.
"All discussions took place in an atmosphere of serious engagement, frankness and mutual respect," the parties said in a statement read by UN Western Sahara envoy and former German president Horst Koehler. "This meeting serves as a first – but an important – step towards a renewed political process on the future of Western Sahara," he said.
"My conviction remains that a peaceful solution to this conflict is possible," he added.
The dispute over Western Sahara began in 1975, when the region was invaded by neighbouring Morocco and Mauritania after the withdrawal of colonial power Spain.
Mauritania later withdrew and recognised Polisario's self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The SADR also won recognition from a number of mostly African countries.
Polisario fighters, largely based in Algeria, where much of the territory's population took refuge, fought a guerrilla war until 1991.
While the Polisario Front seeks an independence vote, Morocco has pushed for a form of regional autonomy under its sovereignty. (dpa)