Spain endorses Moroccan plan for autonomy in Western Sahara

Madrid, Mar 18 (EFE).- Spain announced Friday a dramatic shift in its policy toward the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara, embracing Morocco’s plan to allow some autonomy to the territory Rabat seized 47 years ago.

The change was confirmed by the Spanish government hours after Morocco publicly hailed Madrid’s support for the autonomy bid.

Madrid is embarking on a “new stage” in relations with Morocco, grounded in “mutual respect, fulfillment of accords, the absence of unilateral actions, and permanent communication and transparency,” the government of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in a statement.

In a subsequent press conference, Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said that Spain views Rabat’s proposal as “the most serious, realistic, and credible basis” for a resolution of the conflict.

Morocco invaded the region in 1975 as Spain withdrew. The Polisario Front – supported by Algeria – responded with armed resistance and won a judgment from the World Court backing the Sahrawis’ demand for self-determination.

Algeria helped broker a cease-fire between Morocco and the Polisario in 1991, a pact that envisioned a referendum in Western Sahara on self-determination which has yet to take place.

Western Sahara is a mostly desert expanse of 266,000 sq.km. (103,000 sq. mi.) with a population of around 500,000. The region’s principal natural resources are phosphate and rich coastal fishing grounds.

Albares said that he will travel to Rabat on April 2 ahead of an official visit to Morocco by Sanchez.

The Socialists’ coalition partners, the leftist Podemos party, criticized the new policy as an abandonment of “the position of neutrality and the consensus of United Nations resolutions.”

Spain succumbed to pressure from Morocco to change its stance on Western Sahara as a condition for restoring full bilateral relations, the Polisario representative to the European Union, Bachir Oubbi Bouchraya, told Efe.

Ties between Rabat and Madrid have been strained since May 2021, when Spain allowed Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali to undergo Covid-19 treatment at a hospital in the northern city of Logroño.

Ghali’s sojourn in Spain provoked an angry reaction from Morocco, which Madrid accused of engineering a rush of more than 8,000 undocumented migrants into Ceuta, a Spanish city that faces the Mediterranean on one side and Moroccan territory on the other.

Morocco also recalled its ambassador from Madrid.

Asked Friday how the new policy on Western Sahara might affect Spain’s relations with Algeria, Albares lauded Algiers as a “very reliable partner.”

Algeria, a key supplier of natural gas to Spain, broke relations with Morocco last year after months of rising tensions between the uneasy neighbors. EFE nac/dr

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