Talks between Morocco and Western Sahara’s independence movement over the future of the territory opened but the United Nations said they were soured by Morocco’s move to storm a Sahrawi protest camp.
Hours before the scheduled UN-mediated talks started near New York, Moroccan security forces broke up the tent camp on the outskirts of Western Sahara’s capital, Laayoune. The move sparked clashes in the city in which Morocco said two police officers and a firefighter died.
For the past month, thousands of protesters had been living in the camp demanding jobs and better living conditions, reports Reuters.
“It is highly unfortunate that this operation and the events preceding and following it have affected the atmosphere in which these talks are being held,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters.
“We call on all parties involved to exercise the utmost restraint in the hours and days to come.”
The talks between Morocco and the Polisario Front are the latest in a series held since 2007 on Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1975.
Rabat has proposed that the territory be an autonomous region of Morocco, while Polisario wants a referendum among residents — known as Sahrawis — in which full independence would be one option. Previous rounds of talks have failed to produce a compromise.