Saturday. 28.01.2023
FOREIGN RELATIONS

Spain accepts autonomous W Sahara within Morocco in historic shift

The Spanish left-wing party Unidas Podemos, junior partner of the Socialists in the governing coalition, criticized Sanchez's move and stressed that the wishes of the Western Sahara inhabitants must be respected

03/18/2022. The President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, addresses the media after meeting with the Prime Minister of Italy, Mario Draghi, the Prime Minister of Portugal, António Costa, and the Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Photo: La Moncloa.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, addresses the media after a meeting with the Prime Ministers of Italy, Portugal and Greece. Photo: La Moncloa.

Spain on Friday paved the way for a resolution to a dispute about Western Sahara, which has been claimed by Morocco for almost 50 years.

The government in Madrid announced on Friday the beginning of a "new phase" in relations with Morocco, which will be based on mutual respect and will guarantee the stability and territorial integrity of both countries.

According to a statement from the Royal Palace in Rabat, Madrid has for the first time conceded that the disputed region could be an autonomous province under Moroccan sovereignty, as proposed by Rabat.

The autonomy solution is not mentioned in the Spanish communiqué. However, the Moroccan communiqué is not denied by Madrid either.

The Spanish newspaper El Mundo described this new position of Spain as "historic."

The Government's decision represents a historic change in Spain's position towards its former colony and towards Morocco.

Self-determination

Until now, Madrid had always aligned itself with the United Nations resolutions, which establish a negotiated solution between the two opposing parties, Morocco -which defends an autonomy plan- and the Polisario Front, which on behalf of the Saharawi people demands a referendum on self determination.

On Friday, before Madrid's communiqué, the Royal Palace had published the contents of a letter from the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to King Mohammed VI, stating that Morocco's autonomy proposal was the "most serious and realistic basis" for a solution to the conflict.

The Polisario Front responded to this change in the position of the Spanish Government by saying that «Spain succumbs to the blackmail and the policy of fear used by Morocco. It is a position that does not correspond to the political and legal responsibility of Spain and that will condition its role in resolving the conflict».

Spanish colony until 1975

Western Sahara was a Spanish colony until 1975. After Spain's withdrawal, Morocco annexed parts of the territory on the Atlantic coast of north-west Africa.

Rabat has since controlled and claimed large parts of the sparsely populated desert area. Meanwhile, the Polisario movement is striving for independence for the region. There are repeated battles between Polisario and the Moroccan army in the Western Sahara.

Rabat's claim has not yet been recognized internationally.

The Polisario Front responded to this change in the position of the Spanish Government by saying that «Spain succumbs to the blackmail and the policy of fear used by Morocco. It is a position that does not correspond to the political and legal responsibility of Spain and that will condition its role in resolving the conflict».

The Spanish left-wing party Unidas Podemos, junior partner of the Socialists in the governing coalition, criticized Sanchez's move and stressed that the wishes of the Western Sahara inhabitants must be respected.

Diplomatic conflict

There was diplomatic friction between Spain and Morocco last year because Polisario leader Brahim Ghali was treated in a Spanish hospital for months in the spring.

When more than 8,000 people stormed into the Spanish North African exclave of Ceuta from Morocco in 36 hours in May, Madrid accused Rabat of "extortion."

Spain was convinced that Rabat had relaxed or even suspended border controls to put pressure on Madrid in the dispute over Western Sahara.

Spain accepts autonomous W Sahara within Morocco in historic shift
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