The intensification of the war of words between the two North African neighbours followed the presentation to the UN Security Council in mid February of a report setting out four options for resolving the future status of the Western Sahara. The council rejected one of these options – the withdrawal of the UN mission in the territory – on 26 February, when it unanimously approved a resolution fixing 30 April as the deadline for the UN to decide which of the other three proposals should be pursued.

The partition option, which proposes dividing the area into two, granting independence to one part and the other belonging to Morocco, is unacceptable to Rabat which considers Western Sahara as part of its sovereign territory. Rabat instead supports a proposal, opposed by the Polisario Front independence movement, to give the area autonomy within Morocco.

The third option calls for a renewed attempt to implement the long-planned referendum on the territory’s future which the UN has been trying unsuccessfully to implement since 1991.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI is to visit the Western Sahara in early March, his third trip to the area in four months. His tour follows the unexpected visit by Algerian President Bouteflika to the Sahrawi refugee camps in the south of Algeria on 27 February to mark the 26th anniversary of the establishment of the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic.