Polisario deserter set to be new Moroccan envoy to Spain

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Morocco said Wednesday that its new ambassador to Spain, a deserter from the Polisario Front independence movement, will take up his post by year-end despite reported resistance from Madrid.

The position has been empty since January in a period of high tensions between the two neighbours.

"I can reassure you that the ambassador to Madrid will arrive very shortly, maybe in the coming weeks, before the end of November and by the end of the year at the latest," Moroccan Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri told a joint news conference in Madrid with his Spanish counterpart Trinidad Jimenez.

The ambassador's position in Madrid has been vacant since Omar Azziman, who had held the post since 2004, was appointed by Morocco's King Mohammed VI in January as the head of a new advisory committee on regionalization.

Morocco has asked Spain to accredit as its ambassador Souilem Ould Ahmed, a deserter from the Polisario Front, which seeks an independent state in Western Sahara that Rabat claims as its territory.

But Spanish media said the appointment has not been met with enthusiasm in Madrid, with the Madrid government concerned that Ahmed will focus heavily on the Western Sahara conflict at the expense of other issues.

Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1975, is at the centre of conflict between the Algerian-backed Polisario Front and Rabat, which is willing to accord broad autonomy, but not independence.

During the time that the ambassador post has been empty, tensions between Madrid and Rabat have simmered over the arrest of Spanish nationals for staging a pro-independence protest in the mineral-rich territory.

Tensions between the two nations have also mounted over the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta on the North African coast. Rabat considers the two enclaves, ruled by Spain for some five centuries, as "occupied cities".

© 2010 AFP

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