Morocco asks to rejoin African Union as seeks backing over Western Sahara

Morocco has asked the African Union (AU) to readmit it to an organisation it left 32 years ago, as it steps up efforts to win support from member states for a plan offering conditional autonomy to the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

Morocco abandoned its seat in 1984 when the AU recognised the breakaway Western Sahara republic lobbied for by the Polisario Front independence movement.

The AU is a major backer of the Polisario-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), but Morocco wants the body to withdraw its support, saying at least 36 of the 54 AU member states do not acknowledge the breakaway territory.

“It has been a long time that our friends have been asking Morocco to take back its seat in its natural institutional place (AU), and now the time has come,” Morocco’s King Mohammed was quoted late on Sunday as saying.

The King made the comment in a letter to the AU chairman, Chadian President Idriss Deby, according to state news agency MAP.

It is unclear if powerful AU members including Algeria and South Africa, which have expressed support for a referendum in the Western Sahara, would accept Morocco’s request.

Morocco has controlled most of the territory since 1975 and claims as its own the sparsely populated stretch of desert, which has offshore fishing, phosphate reserves and oilfield potential.

Morocco has been campaigning aggressively in Africa to boost support for its bid to offer Western Sahara autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. Moroccan officials made visits to Algiers, Abuja and Nairobi last week.

The North African kingdom has also been negotiating with the United Nations over the return of civilian staff to the MINURSO peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara.

Morocco expelled dozens of MINURSO staff earlier this year after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon used the word “occupation” to describe Rabat’s 1975 annexation of the territory.

The U.N. mission was formed more than 20 years ago ahead of an expected referendum on the Western Sahara’s political future that has never taken place.

In 2014, Morocco rejected the AU’s decision to appoint a special envoy for the Western Sahara, saying the body had no legal authority to intervene. 

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