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NEWS & COMMENTARY 2008 SPEAKERS 2007 2006 2005

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Morocco says Sahara state would be "terrorist den"

RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco's king Mohammed, in an unprecedented warning to neighboring countries, said on Monday any future independent state in the disputed Western Sahara could harbor terrorists and bandits.

The king was addressing the nation on the 31st anniversary of the Green March when Morocco seized the former Spanish colony in 1975, claiming centuries-old rights over the territory rich in phosphates, fisheries and possibly offshore oil.

That triggered a low-intensity guerrilla war that ended in 1991, when the
United Nations brokered a ceasefire and sent in peacekeepers in anticipation of a self-determination referendum.

The vote never took place and Morocco now insists the most it will offer is regional autonomy.

U.N. Secretary-General
Kofi Annan urged the Security Council last month to push Morocco and the Polisario Front, which wants an independent Western Sahara, to agree to direct talks to end Africa's oldest territorial dispute.

King Mohammed said a draft text on autonomy would be completed soon after consultations with political and civic groups and parties.

"We confirm by this approach our commitment to the Arab Maghreb unity and our willingness to spare this zone as well as the Sahel region and the northern and southern Mediterranean shores the disastrous risks of balkanization and instability," the king said.

"This dreadful hypothesis would transform the (North African) region into a dirty marsh and den of terrorist gangs and criminal bandits smuggling human beings and arms," he said.

"These are the hazards Morocco is striving to prevent by proposing the autonomy within the framework of a great drive of democracy Morocco has embraced," he added.

Diplomats and observers say they believed the king's remarks were meant to underline Rabat's eagerness to win support from Western powers and Arab and African states for its plans.

On October 31, a resolution adopted unanimously by the
U.N. Security Council proposed no new substantive steps for resolving the dispute.

It simply reaffirmed the body's support for a solution that would "provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara."
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