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Dispute blocks economic talks
April 5, 2017, 4:44 pm
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The tenth annual meetings of African finance ministers, which was due to run from 23 to 28 March in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, was abruptly adjourned over a dispute on the status of the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).
 
The meeting, jointly hosted by the African Union (AU) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), was suspended after days of negotiation failed to reach a breakthrough on Morocco’s objection to participation by the SADR delegation.
 
SADR is the government proclaimed by the Polisario independence movement of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony. The group launched a rebellion against colonial rule, prompting Spain's withdrawal in 1976.  However, following Spain’s withdrawal, Morocco claimed the phosphate-rich region as part of its territory and sent troops to reinforce its claims, sparking a war between Moroccan and Polisario forces.  
 
Over the years, the SADR has won recognition from dozens of countries and was admitted to full membership of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) – the African Union's predecessor – in 1984. Morocco walked out of the OAU in protest over Western Sahara's admission. More than three decades later in January 2017, Morocco re-joined the African Union, marking the first time that the pan-African organization enjoyed the membership of all 55 nations on the continent.
 
Although the SADR is an AU member, it has not been admitted to the United Nations. The joint sponsorship of the finance ministers' sessions by the AU and the UN's Africa economic commission became a basis for the dispute over participation.
 
During one acrimonious session in Dakar, Morocco looked isolated, with some delegates, including representatives from two of the continent's giants - Nigeria and South Africa - arguing for the continuation of the meetings with SADR's presence. The UNECA faced a more delicate dilemma.
 
UNECA's Deputy Executive Secretary, Giovanie Biha, said that although UNECA recognizes Morocco's right to reject a non-member state, "the ultimate decision rests with member states". She noted that UNECA was only a secretariat. Announcing the adjournment, the organizers said they had taken into account the different positions presented and were unable to find a legal and diplomatic solution that would allow the meeting to proceed as a joint one. He said a new date will be communicated to member states.
 
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