LONDON, Jan 22 (Reuters) - The Western Sahara independence movement Polisario said on Thursday the European Union must stop boats fishing off the disputed territory’s coast and announced a legal framework to back up its claim to the area’s resources.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1975 after Spanish colonial forces withdrew, sparking a low-level guerrilla war with Polisario that ended in 1991 when the United Nations brokered an uneasy ceasefire.
The territorial dispute is still unresolved but Morocco has poured money into defending the majority of Western Sahara it controls, developed its mineral resources and fisheries and awarded oil exploration permits to foreign firms.
Polisario has long accused Morocco of illegally exploiting Western Sahara’s wealth and put pressure on foreign companies working with Morocco in the territory to cease their activities.
Morocco says ancestral rights justify its presence in the territory and that most Sahrawis consider themselves Moroccan.
On Thursday Polisario said its would-be government -- the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) -- had created a 200- mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) giving it exclusive rights over the area’s offshore oil and gas and fisheries.
“The EEZ also provides the legal framework for the SADR’s offshore licensing regime, which is currently receiving international bids for offshore oil and gas exploration activities,” it said in a statement.
SADR President Mohammed Abdelaziz called on foreign governments and companies to reconsider agreements with Morocco that do not explicitly exclude Western Sahara.
“In particular we call upon the European Union to suspend immediately the 2005 EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement in its current form, and to prevent EU vessels from encroaching upon the waters of Western Sahara,” he said in the statement.
The U.N. has overseen four rounds of slow-moving talks to resolve what is Africa’s longest-running territorial dispute but analysts say neither Morocco nor Polisario is willing to concede enough ground to allow for meaningful negotiations. (Editing by Tim Pearce)
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