The Moroccan government has turned to Switzerland to help them release more than 1,000 prisoners of war being held by the separatist Polisario movement.This content was published on March 28, 2002 - 20:27
According to diplomatic sources in Geneva, the appeal was addressed to Swiss authorities and more than 171 copies were sent to signatories of the Geneva Conventions.
At least 900 Moroccan prisoners of war were captured by Polisario fighters more than 20 years ago.
The Polisario movement, or Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro, has been campaigning for a separate Sahrawi homeland in Western Sahara for 27 years.
The former Spanish territory was originally handed over to Morocco and Mauritania in 1975. The Polisario drove the Mauritanians out of the area in 1979; however, they have not been against Morocco, which has clinched on to the 260,000 km2 region since annexing it in 1975.
Since the cessation of hostilities by Polisario in 1991, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations, and the UN Security Council have called repeatedly on the movement to release Moroccan captives.
UN observers are currently overseeing the ceasefire in addition to paving the way for a self-determination referendum by Sahrawis, under an UN-mediated peace plan. The plebiscite could also lead to the selection of an electoral body for the region.
Last February, the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said the prospects for a Western Sahara peace process were rather gloomy.
swissinfo with agencies
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