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Rebels Appeal to New Moroccan King

July 24, 1999

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ A rebel group seeking freedom for Western Sahara appealed Saturday to Morocco’s new king, Mohamed VI, to allow a long-delayed referendum on self-determination to go forward.

The Polisario Front issued a statement of condolence to Mohamed VI, 35, who assumed the crown Saturday, a day after his father, King Hassan II, died of a heart attack.

``The death of his majesty, your father, is tragic news that has caused deep sadness,″ Polisario President Mohamed Abdelaziz said.

Both Abdelaziz and the Polisario’s representative before the European Union, Khatri Aduh, urged Morocco’s new monarch not to delay the U.N.-backed referendum, in which residents of the mineral-rich former Spanish colony in north Africa will choose between being independent or part of Morocco.

``The absence of Hassan II should have no influence whatsoever on the process of self-determination,″ Aduh said from Brussels.

``To avoid more problems, Morocco and the new king should move ahead on the path his father, the late Hassan II, set out with us and the United Nations,″ he said.

War broke out in the Western Sahara in 1976 after Spain abandoned the Atlantic coast territory and Morocco annexed it and moved in settlers. The fighting, which pitted 15,000 ragtag guerrilla fighters against Morocco’s U.S.-equipped army, came to a halt in 1991 with a cease-fire.

Since then, however, plans for a referendum have been repeatedly delayed by a dispute over who is eligible to take part, with each side accusing the other of padding voter lists.

The U.N.-monitored process of identifying voters is due to be completed next February, with the referendum set for July 31.

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