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Western Sahara: Spain and Morocco near end to diplomatic row over disputed territory

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By Euronews  with AP, AFP
A Sahrawi refugee boy stands in the shadow in the Boujdour refugee camp.
A Sahrawi refugee boy stands in the shadow in the Boujdour refugee camp.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, File

Morocco and Spain have moved closer to resolving a decades-long dispute over Western Sahara.

Spain's Prime Minister stated that a proposed autonomous region under Rabat control is the "most serious, realistic and credible” solution, according to Morocco’s royal palace.

In a letter to Morrocan King Mohammed VI, Pedro Sánchez recognised “the importance of the Sahara issue for Morocco”.

“Spain considers the autonomy initiative presented by Morocco in 2007, as the basis, the most serious, realistic and credible, for resolving the dispute,” the royal palace said in a statement on Friday.

Western Sahara -- a vast, disputed territory in northwestern Africa -- has long been a source of tensions between Madrid and Rabat.

Morocco has fought a conflict against Sahrawi independence fighters of the Polisario Front for decades, but Spain is still considered the colonial administrative power of Western Sahara since it abandoned the territory in 1975.

Madrid has long argued that a United Nations-sponsored referendum should settle the territory’s decolonisation.

Meanwhile, the Algeria-backed independence movement has called for a referendum on becoming a sovereign state.

The move towards autonomy is a departure from Spain’s previous position that Morocco’s grip on Western Sahara was an occupation.

"Today, we are starting a new stage in our relationship with Morocco, based on mutual respect, respect for agreements, the absence of unilateral actions and transparency and permanent communication," the Spanish government said on Friday.

PM Sánchez and Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares are expected to visit Morocco amid improved relations.

In April last year, Morocco was angered after Spain admitted the Polisario Front leader into their country for COVID-19 treatment.

Rabat was then accused of relaxing its border controls, allowing at least 8,000 migrants to enter the Spanish enclave of Ceuta.