RUETERS: Polisario seeks talks with Morocco on W. Sahara
ALGIERS, April 29 (Reuters) - Western Sahara's independence movement Polisario said on Sunday it was ready for U.N.-sponsored direct negotiations with Morocco to seek a solution to Africa's oldest territorial dispute. Mohamed Yesslem Beissat, representative of the self-proclaimed Sahrawi government in exile for Western Sahara, was speaking one day before a key vote by the U.N. Security Council on a resolution aimed at resolving the dispute. "In the name of Polisario and the Sahrawi government, we announce our readiness to enter into direct talks under the auspices of the U.N. Secretary-General," Beissat told a news conference in Algiers. "The aim of these talks is to allow the people of Western Sahara to enjoy the right to self-determination." The mandate of the 220-member United Nations peacekeeping force in Sahara expires on Monday, when the Security Council aims to vote to renew it and to call for direct talks between Morocco and Polisario. Both sides have handed proposals to the U.N. for the future of the desert territory, which was annexed by Morocco after Spain abandoned its colonial occupation in 1975.Each side now says it is ready in principle to talk, but wide differences remain on the basis for negotiations over the territory, which has lucrative phosphate reserves and rich fishing grounds. Many thousands of its native Sahrawi people live in refugee camps across the border in Algeria, where Polisario is based. A U.N. ceasefire agreement in 1991 promised a referendum on the fate of the territory, but it never took place and Morocco now rules it out, saying autonomy is the most it will offer. Washington moved towards Morocco's position on Friday before the Security Council decided to delay a vote as members haggled over a resolution on the dispute. Also backing Morocco in the Security Council is France. Polisario is supported by South Africa and some other developing countries. Beissat said the discussions at Friday's council meeting were a failure for Morocco's strategy, and urged Washington to put pressure on Rabat. "We will not stop calling on the United States to encourage Morocco to organise a referendum," he said.