ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — The UN envoy for disputed Western Sahara on Saturday visited refugee camps in Algeria housing people displaced by fighting decades ago, in a renewed effort to find a diplomatic solution for the territory.
Staffan de Mistura’s visit to the Smara camps, broadcast on Algerian public television, was met with skepticism by supporters of the Polisario Front, which is demanding independence for Western Sahara. Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975.
Sahrawi independence activists are growing frustrated after decades of diplomatic stalemate, and some young people are taking up arms against Moroccan forces they see as occupiers.
The envoy began his first trip to the region last week in Morocco, and will visit the Algerian capital Algiers and Mauritania next week. Algeria supports the Polisario and severed diplomatic ties with Morocco in August over a dispute over the Western Sahara conflict.
After seeing from Mistura, Moroccan officials reiterated “the country’s commitment to the resumption of the political process conducted under the exclusive auspices of the UN”.
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Morocco has proposed granting Western Sahara greater autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty, but the Polisario Front wants a self-determination referendum under UN supervision
“Sahrawis are not asking for the impossible,” Azza Ibrahim Babi, head of the Boujdour refugee camp, told Algerian news agency APS. “We are only asking for the organization of a referendum.”
She expressed doubts that de Mistura, an Italian diplomat and former UN envoy for Syria, could find the long-elusive solution. “We will continue the armed struggle.”
In 2020, the Polisario ended a 29-year ceasefire with Morocco after a border confrontation with the Moroccan army, a decision fueled by the impatience of young Sahrawis who have spent their lives waiting for the referendum promised by the UN.
Morocco scored a major diplomatic victory when then-President Donald Trump recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in 2020 in return for normalizing relations between Morocco and Israel. The Moroccan government has tried to persuade other countries, especially in Europe, to follow its example.
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