France urges talks on disputed Western Sahara

13th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

ALGIERS, July 13 (AFP) - Visiting French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier on Tuesday urged direct dialogue between Algiers and Rabat to resolve a long-running dispute over the Moroccan territory of Western Sahara.

ALGIERS, July 13 (AFP) - Visiting French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier on Tuesday urged direct dialogue between Algiers and Rabat to resolve a long-running dispute over the Moroccan territory of Western Sahara.

"Dialogue between these two countries would be essential and very useful. We encourage it," Barnier said at a joint press conference with his Algerian counterpart Abdelaziz Belkhadem.

The status of Western Sahara, annexed by Morocco in 1975 at independence from Spain, is among the thorniest issues between France and Algeria, which backs the Polisario Movement seeking independence from Rabat.

Polisario has accepted a UN plan, rejected repeatedly by Morocco, under which Western Sahara would have immediate autonomy during a five-year transition period to prepare for a referendum on independence.

Barnier, who visited Rabat at the end of May, said he had noted a "very great readiness on both sides to continue the dialogue and to give it new impetus."

Belkhadem said Algiers was "determined to move forward" on the issue, saying it was "vital to develop relations with Morocco."

But he repeated Algeria's traditional position that Western Sahara is a product of decolonization in Africa, and as such its status should be resolved by the United Nations.

"It is a matter of respecting people's right to self-determination," he said.

Algeria has refused to join any dialogue with Morocco without Polisario representatives present, and has insisted on having only observer status in such talks.

Barnier, whose visit is the second in a series of high-level trips by French leaders to the north African country in June and July, has appeared keen to set aside contentious issues between France and its former colony while pressing for a deeper partnership.

"The government of my country is ready to nourish and solidify relations between our two people," he said.

On arriving here Monday, Barnier wasted little time in announcing the signing of three new accords covering water resources, earthquake preparedness and technical cooperation in an archeological project.

The foreign minister, in a meeting with French residents here Monday evening, praised entrepreneurs operating in Algeria, and urged stepped-up investments.

"We must go further, consolidate, help this special partnership thrive ... in the Euro-Mediterranean region, boost cooperation in multiple sectors, (including) economic, political, cultural and human," he said.

Barnier's visit follows close on a visit last month by Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and comes ahead of a visit by Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie this weekend.

The diplomatic flurry has prompted editorials in Algeria's lively independent press speculating over a rivalry between the United States and France over the north African country - which Barnier dismissed in an interview with an Algerian newspaper ahead of the visit.

The daily Liberte said that France wanted to "outwit the Americans, who have never hidden their desire to make Algeria a lynchpin country, notably in the fight against terrorism."

France and Algeria are intimately linked by a 132-year colonial history, by the memories of hundreds of thousands of French citizens who fled Algeria at its independence in 1962, and by the experience of the two million people of Algerian nationality or origin who now live in France.

Despite close economic and cultural ties, the legacy of the 1954-1962 independence war has been a constant strain, with a shroud of secrecy over torture, massacres and disappearances during the conflict.

The relationship turned a corner last year, however, when French President Jacques Chirac paid a state visit to Algeria aimed at ushering in a new era of cooperation. He arrived to a rapturous welcome by hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets.

 

© AFP

 

Subject: French news

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