News / Africa

UN: Western Sahara Talks Stall Amid New Clashes

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A United Nations mediator says Morocco and the Polisario independence movement have again rejected each other's proposals on the future of Western Sahara at talks overshadowed by a second day of violence in the disputed territory.

The U.N. special envoy for the Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, said Tuesday that two days of informal talks in New York had resulted in a "new dynamic" between the parties despite the fact that each side continues to reject each other's proposals.

Morocco is offering Western Sahara autonomy while Polisario, based in desert camps inside Algeria, says it wants a referendum on self-determination for the Sahrawi people - as the region's inhabitants are called - with independence as an option.

Meanwhile, clashes continued Tuesday between Moroccan security forces and protesters in Western Sahara's regional capital, Laayoune. The Polisario Front said 11 protesters died in Monday's raid by Moroccan troops on a protest tent city set up by some 20,000 Sahrawi and the rioting that spread to nearby Laayoune. Moroccan authorities said six members of the security forces were killed.

Moroccan forces used tear-gas and high-pressure water cannons to destroy the tent camp. The territory's largest anti-government action in decades had highlighted discrimination and deteriorating living standards in the region. After camp dwellers fought the security forces, several hundred people moved into Laayoune, blocking roads, setting fire to cars and throwing stones at police.

Morocco's 1975 annexation of the resource-rich former Spanish colony sparked a war between its forces and Polisario insurgents, who maintain Morocco has consistently violated the human rights of Sahrawis. Morocco, in turn, says Polisario forces have committed abuses at Sahrawi refugee camps in neighboring Algeria.

The latest tensions started in mid-October, when Laayoune residents set up the tent camp east of the city.

In April, the U.N. Security Council extended the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Western Sahara for another year. The mission is tasked with maintaining a 1991 U.N.-negotiated truce between Morocco and Polisario and organizing a referendum on the region's future. The two sides have had sporadic talks since 2007.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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