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Morocco's autonomy proposal best plan for W Sahara

Morocco's plan for granting the disputed territory of Western Sahara autonomous status is the only realistic proposal for the territory, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Wednesday.

"We still think that the Moroccan autonomy plan, which today is the only realistic proposal on the table, forms the serious and credible basis of a solution," he told Morocco's MAP news agency.

But the dispute still needed to be handled within the framework of the United Nations talks, he said.

And it should not be allowed to hamper the ongoing rapprochement between the leaders of Morocco and neighbour Algeria, he added, saying: "We can only encourage them in this direction."

Juppe's comments came ahead of the start of his official visit to Morocco on Thursday and Friday -- and soon after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton endorsed the Moroccan plan during a visit there last month.

Clinton, speaking during a visit to Rabat on 26 February, described the autonomy plan as "serious, credible and realistic".

She also backed the UN-mediated talks on the issue.

But the Algerian-backed Polisario Front, which is fighting for independence for Western Sahara has rejected the Moroccan plan.

Morocco moved into Western Sahara when Spanish colonisers left in 1975, sparking the conflict with the Polisario Front until a ceasefire in 1991.

UN resolutions call for a self-determination referendum but Morocco has agreed only to offer greater autonomy to Western Sahara.

The United Nations is due to host another round of talks on the Western Sahara from Sunday to Tuesday in the suburbs of New York. But the UN-sponsored talks to resolve the dispute have made no progress over the past two years.
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