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The Obama administration says it continues to support United Nations efforts to resolve the future of the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Morocco's government there will be no change in U.S. policy regarding the rival claims by Morocco and the pro-independence movement POLISARIO.
Western Sahara was high on Secretary Clinton's agenda during her meeting with Moroccan Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri this week.
Political observers here say Rabat generally believes that U.S. administrations led by the Democratic Party are more sympathetic to the separatist POLISARIO movement and are therefore more likely to push for a vote on self-determination within U.N. mediation efforts.
But Secretary Clinton made clear that President Obama is pursuing the same track as President George W. Bush in setting no preconditions about how U.N. mediation might best resolve the issue.
"I think it is important for me to reaffirm here in Morocco that there has been no change in policy," said Clinton.
The coastal region between Morocco, Mauritania, and Algeria was claimed by Morocco shortly after the end of Spanish colonialism in 1975. King Hassan sent 350,000 Moroccan civilians into the territory to back-up his claim in what is called the Green March. But those Moroccans clashed with members of the POLISARIO movement who had been fighting for independence since 1969.
A 1991 ceasefire ended the war but has not resolved Western Sahara's status.
As Moroccans prepare to celebrate next week's anniversary of the Green March, the disputed territory remains a potent political issue.
Morocco has expelled a Swedish diplomat for sharing a government document about Western Sahara with POLISARIO. The foreign ministry says Anna Block-Mazoyer committed "a serious breach in diplomatic practice" as the document ended up in the hands of what it says are "enemies of the kingdom's territorial integrity."
The Morrocan interior minister was at the Mauritanian border last week ordering stepped-up security after Rabat accused Nouakchott of giving passports to ethnic Saharawi activists who are now entering Morocco as Mauritanians.
Seven Moroccan human rights activists are in jail on charges of high treason for visiting POLISARIO refugee camps in Algeria. POLISARIO is threatening to withdraw from U.N. negotiations and restart the war if those activists are not freed.
Algeria backs self-determination for the Saharawi people and helps support about 90,000 refugees who live in camps around the Algerian town of Tindouf. But as the dispute drags on, some Saharawi have returned to Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara, including former POLISARIO militant Ahmed Khare.
Khare says he believes the separatist movement ultimately went against the ambitions of the Saharawi people because foreign forces created divisions. He says its time for POLISARIO to consider what it has gained since the end of the Cold War in a dispute that he says is now managed by parties far larger than the goals of Saharawi separatists 30 years ago.
The United Nations this year again extended its peacekeeping mission. Deputy U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq says Secretary General Ban ki-Moon believes real change will only come with "a spirit of compromise."
"The secretary-general recommends that the Security Council reiterate its call upon the parties to negotiate in good faith without preconditions and to show political will to enter into substantive discussions and ensure the success of the negotiations," he said.
Past negotiations have resulted in the release of POLISARIO prisoners. But there has been no appreciable progress in reconciling Morocco's offer of limited self rule with POLISARIO demands for a referendum on self-determination offering complete independence as one of the options.