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First Foreign Diplomatic Mission Opens in Contested Western Sahara

According to Arab media, the tiny Muslim-majority island nation of Comoros has become the first country to open a diplomatic mission in Western Sahara, a disputed territory in Africa primarily under Morocco’s control but which was once colonized by Spain. After Madrid relinquished administrative control of the Western Sahara to Morocco and Mauritania in 1975, a war broke out between the latter two and the Polisario Front, a Sahrawi nationalist movement. While Mauritania four years later withdrew its claims to the territory, the Algeria-backed Polisario Front has continued to wage a campaign for independence. Within this context, Rabat described Comoro’s opening of a consulate in the city of Laayoune as “a supreme expression” of support for Morocco’s claims. This is liable to be further bolstered by Gambia, which is expected to follow suit by inaugurating “as soon as possible” a consulate in the port city of Dakhla. The international community does not recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the vast desert region and has long called for a referendum in which a scattered population of about 500,000 people would determine its status. While the Polisario Front ostensibly supports this position, Rabat has repeatedly rejected the idea, instead offering the splinter group limited self-rule in parts of the territory.