The Western Mediterranean Conference, which was held in Lisbon yesterday, ended with an unexpected degree of optimism for the future, with the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Khadafi, intervening through his Foreign Minister to present a solution for the Saraui question in the near future and to restart the Arab Maghreb Union. The question of the Western Sahara was not even on the agenda of this informal meeting, whose main aim was to start the process of conversation moving between the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Years of stagnation caused by international political issues, lack of funding and European Union bureaucracy had resulted in a profound silence between the two shores. This objective was reached and the initiative of Dr. Gama, the Portuguese Foreign Minister was attained. Yesterday, however, the Libya delegation announced that Colonel Khadafi had met with the Moroccan King, Mohammed VI, to discuss the Saraui question. The colonial power, Spain, left its possession on the west African coast (Western Sahara) in November 1975, dividing the territory between Morocco and Mauritania, without consulting the local population, the Saraui. They created the Polisario Liberation Front and proclaimed the Democratic Arab Saraui Republic in 1976. Border disputes between the DASR, Mauritania and Morocco continued and the DASR remained outside the Organization of African Unity. Colonel Khadafi has now formally requested that the DASR be admitted to this organization at an extraordinary meeting which will take place in March. Finally, the Saraui issue is close to being solved. However, the Libyan leader did not stop at this. He also proclaimed his interest in restarting the Arab Maghreb Union, (Maghreb means “Western, Occidental” in Arabic) since all the Foreign Ministers of that region were present in the Lisbon conference, with a view to strengthening links between the Maghreb countries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya). The Lisbon Conference thus gained more by accident than design, a political projection and diplomatic dimension which had never been intended by its hosts, thanks to Colonel Khadafi, ou correspondent Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey reports from Lisbon.

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