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Moroccan King Optimistic on Western Sahara Compromise - 2001-09-04


King Mohammed of Morocco says he is optimistic that a compromise will be reached between his country and Algeria over the status of Western Sahara.

In a wide-ranging interview published by Le Figaro newspaper, Morocco's King Mohammed said he believed Algeria would eventually support a plan to give greater autonomy, but not full independence, to Western Sahara. He said negotiations on the status of the desert territory, which Morocco annexed in 1975, have entered a new and more comfortable phase. Maybe Algeria will refuse a compromise solution today, the King said. But it may not refuse one tomorrow.

The United Nations has been trying to organize a referendum on Western Sahara since a 1992 cease-fire between the area's indigenous people and Morocco. Algeria, which shares a border with Morocco and Western Sahara, wants the people in the territory to be able to vote on a referendum on independence.

King Mohammed, in the Le Figaro interview, acknowledged relations between Morocco and Algeria were sometimes turbulent. But he said that his personal rapport with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was excellent. Indeed, King Mohammed said Mr. Bouteflika had lent Algeria a certain aura of credibility since becoming that country's president in 1998.

King Mohammed came to power the following year, after the death of his father, King Hassan. The 38-year-old king says Morocco's economic and social development have been his top priorities since ascending the throne.

But although he considers himself a reformer, King Mohammed made it clear his reforms will only go so far. He ruled out following the example of Spain's King Juan Carlos, who presided over his country's transition to a parliamentary democracy.

The king did not respond to rumors he might marry at the end of September. Any possible marriage, he said, would first be announced to his people.

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