In meeting with Staffan de Mistura, Front leaders reiterate "legitimate" aim for self-determination and independence of Western Sahara, a disputed territory claimed in entirety by Morocco.

UN says Staffan de Mistura is
UN says Staffan de Mistura is "looking forward to deepening consultations with all parties concerned on the prospect of constructively advancing the political process in Western Sahara." (Reuters Archive)

The UN's Western Sahara envoy Staffan de Mistura has reportedly met with representatives of the Polisario independence movement in Tindouf, Algeria as part of a regional tour.

De Mistura met at a refugee camp with Khatri Addouh, the Polisario's chief negotiator, and Omar Sidi Mohamed, the group's permanent representative to the United Nations, the AFP news agency, citing sources.

The Polisario movement was "committed to a just peace, just as it was committed to defending... the right of the Sahrawi people to obtain their legitimate aim for auto-determination and independence," said Sidi Mohamed after the talks.

The movement was ready to cooperate with the UN and its emissary to reach "a peaceful, just and lasting solution", he added.

The camp is located in Tindouf, where the Polisario Front is based in far southwestern Algeria near the borders with Morocco and Western Sahara.

Announcing the visit on Friday, a UN spokesperson said de Mistura was "looking forward to deepening consultations with all parties concerned on the prospect of constructively advancing the political process in Western Sahara".

The Algerian-backed Polisario Front wants an independent state in Western Sahara, a vast stretch of mineral-rich desert that Morocco sees as a sovereign part of its own territory.

Rabat controls 80 percent of Western Sahara while the rest is run by the Polisario Front.

Talks with Polisario leader

The Italian-Swedish diplomat also met a group of youth and women, according to news agency SPS.

On Sunday, he is scheduled to hold talks with Polisario leader Brahim Ghali, the movement's UN representative told AFP.

De Mistura was appointed in November and undertook his first mission in July, travelling to Rabat to meet Moroccan officials before delaying a planned trip to Western Sahara.

A former Spanish colony, Western Sahara sits on the western edge of the vast eponymous desert, stretching along the Atlantic coast.

When Spain withdrew in 1975, Morocco sent thousands of people across the border and claimed it was an integral part of its territory.

The following year the Polisario Front declared a new state, with support from Algeria and Libya, and demanded a referendum on self-determination. Since then 84 UN member states have recognised it.

But a stalemate ensued, and Morocco built razor-wire-topped concentric sand walls in the desert that still ring 80 percent of the territory that it controls.

Under a 1991 ceasefire, the UN, which considers the Western Sahara "a non-self-governing territory", deployed a peacekeeping mission.

The international community has long backed a referendum to be held to decide the territory's status.

But Morocco rejects any vote in which independence is an option, arguing that only granting autonomy is on the table for the sake of regional security.

In 2020, after an incident near near the border crossing between Western Sahara and Mauritania, the Polisario declared a resumption of its armed revolt against Morocco after a three-decade truce.

Source: AFP