Western Sahara dispute spills over into nuclear arms meeting: envoys
(Reuters) - A fierce dispute between Morocco and African nations led by Algeria over the speaking rights of Western Sahara's Polisario Front independence movement led to the suspension of a U.N. meeting on nuclear disarmament on Friday, diplomats said.
The diplomatic fracas broke out during a meeting of "States Parties and Signatories that Establish Nuclear Weapon Free Zones and Mongolia" ahead of a month-long conference on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that kicks off on Monday.
Polisario's "Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic" of Western Sahara is a signatory of the Pelindaba Treaty, which established Africa as a nuclear weapons free zone.
"A heated argument broke out between Morocco and Algeria about the Polisario's right to speak at the meeting, so they had to suspend the meeting until later today," a diplomat present at the meeting told Reuters. "Western Sahara is heating up."
A similar dispute over Palestinian speaking rights delayed the start of a meeting on a global arms trade treaty in 2012.
Diplomats said that Algeria had the support of African Union member states in calling for Polisario's right to speak, a view Morocco vehemently opposed. The meeting is expected to resume later on Friday in the hopes that the dispute can be resolved, they added.
The procedural spat shows how the broader unresolved issue of the future status of Western Sahara is spilling over into other areas, envoys told Reuters. Morocco is pushing back against an increasingly combative African Union that has grown frustrated with Rabat's position on Western Sahara and is urging Western powers to demand concessions from the Moroccans.
It also comes as members of the U.N. Security Council are heatedly debating the future of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO).
Morocco took control of most of Western Sahara in 1975 when colonial power Spain withdrew, prompting Polisario to wage a guerrilla war lasting until 1991, when the U.N. brokered a ceasefire and sent in MINURSO.
Morocco says the African Union has no business meddling in the issue of Western Sahara and has rejected African and Western demands for MINURSO to conduct human rights monitoring. It also says the territory should have autonomy, not independence, a view rejected by Polisario.
Morocco is not a member of the African Union due to Western Sahara. Its U.N. mission did not respond to a request for comment.