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UN envoy visits Western Sahara camps in new peace push

ALGIERS, ALGERIA (AP) – The United Nations (UN) envoy for the disputed Western Sahara visited refugee camps in Algeria on Saturday housing those displaced by fighting decades ago, in a renewed effort to find a diplomatic solution for the territory.

Staffan de Mistura’s visit to camps in Smara, shown on Algerian state television, was met with scepticism by supporters of the Polisario Front, which seeks independence for Western Sahara. Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975.

Sahrawi independence activists are increasingly frustrated after decades of diplomatic deadlock, and some young people are taking up arms against the Moroccan forces they see as occupiers. The envoy started his first trip to the region last week in Morocco, and travels next week to the Algerian capital of Algiers and Mauritania. Algeria backs the Polisario, and severed diplomatic relations with Morocco in August in a dispute linked to the Western Sahara conflict.

After seeing de Mistura, Moroccan officials reiterated the country’s “commitment to the resumption of the political process conducted under the exclusive auspices of the UN”.

Morocco has proposed granting the Western Sahara greater autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty, but the Polisario Front wants a referendum for self-determination under the supervision of the UN.

A Sahrawi refugee girl picking up the laundry in the Boujdour refugee camp, Algeria. PHOTO: AP