Algeria sees ‘hope of progress’ in W. Sahara

A Sahrawi refugee walks in a Western Sahara refugee camp on March 1, 2011.  By Dominique Faget (AFP/File)

A Sahrawi refugee walks in a Western Sahara refugee camp on March 1, 2011. By Dominique Faget (AFP/File)

ALGIERS (AFP) – Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci met UN envoy Christopher Ross on Monday and spoke of the “hope of progress” on the decades-old Western Sahara conflict during his latest visit to the region.

“I would like to see in this new visit by Mr Ross the hope of progress that could be achieved between the two parties, namely Morocco and the Polisario,” Medelci told national radio.

The UN envoy began a tour of the region last month aimed at reviving direct peace talks between Morocco and the Algeria-backed Polisario Front separatists, after numerous rounds of UN-hosted informal negotiations failed to make any progress.

He held talks last week with Polisario officials and visited Sahrawi refugee camps in the western Tindouf region of Algeria, after meeting top Moroccan officials in Rabat and travelling to the Western Sahara towns of Laayoune and Dakhla.

Relations between Algeria and Morocco are hamstrung by the impasse over the conflict.

Medelci complained on Monday of a negative campaign by official Moroccan media that he said contradicted the political will in the two countries “to move forward.”

Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975, in a move not recognised by the international community, and it has proposed broad autonomy for the region under its sovereignty.

But this is rejected by the Polisario Front, which insists on the right of the Sahrawi people to a referendum on self-determination.

At the World Social Forum in Tunis on Friday, Moroccans clashed with Sahrawi and Algerian independence activists during a debate on the subject, with a Moroccan journalist who tried to film the skirmish attacked, organisers of the forum said.