Moroccan King Mohammed VI has officially announced that his country wants to rejoin the African Union (AU). The move comes 32 years after quitting the bloc over its decision to accept Western Sahara as a member.
Morocco is the only African nation which has not been part of the union, but in his message to AU leaders during a two-day summit in the Rwandan capital Kigali, the king said his country "never left Africa".
"For a long time our friends have been asking us to return to them, so that Morocco can take up its natural place within its institutional family. The moment has now come," King Mohammed VI told the summit, according to Moroccan news agency MAP.
Morocco has claimed Western Sahara, which was once a Spanish colony, as its "southern province", occupying much of the territory since 1975. But this was not recognised by the international community. It is reported that the AU and the UN have always considered Western Sahara as an independent state, prompting Morocco to stay out of the union since 1984.
According to BBC, the AU said it would continue to press for the rights of Western Sahara to hold a referendum on self-determination, supported by the local pro-independence Polisario Front. In 1991, a UN mission brokered a ceasefire between Moroccan troops and the native Sahrawi rebels to find a peaceful settlement of a 15-year guerrilla war, but the agreement has reportedly failed to yield any results. The Sahrawi people have allegedly suffered discrimination by the Moroccan government.
Morocco even reportedly threatened to pull its soldiers out of the UN global peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara in March because of the dispute.
However, the monarch urged the AU leaders to rethink Morocco's position in the bloc, saying that it would find a political solution "under the auspices of the UN Security Council".
"Our people need concrete, tangible action. One cannot change geography, nor can one escape the burden of history. Morocco should not remain outside its African institutional family and should regain its natural, rightful place within the AU. From within, Morocco will contribute to making the AU a more robust organisation – one that is both proud of its credibility and relieved of the trappings of an obsolete era," the king said while addressing the summit.