DAKHLA, Western Sahara (AP) — Trawlers pack the bustling Western Saharan port of Dakhla, the place fish scales glisten from staff’ arms as they roll up their nets and consumers shout bids in a sprawling public sale warehouse. Close by, turquoise waters lap large, practically empty Atlantic seashores and diners sip tea in sidewalk cafes.

Plans by the USA to open a consulate in Western Sahara mark a turning level for the disputed and intently policed territory in North Africa. The U.S. transfer acknowledges Morocco’s authority over the land — in trade for Morocco normalizing relations with Israel. Prime American and Moroccan officers are within the area this weekend to put the groundwork for the challenge.

Whereas this shift in U.S. overseas coverage frustrates indigenous Sahrawis who’ve sought Western Sahara’s independence for many years, others see new alternatives for commerce and tourism that can present a fine addition for the area and sun-kissed coastal cities like Dakhla.

A portrait of Moroccan King Mohammed VI, waving from behind his sun shades, hangs from the crenellated archway that greets individuals arriving in Dakhla. The king’s face is juxtaposed on a map that features Western Sahara as an integral a part of Morocco.

Morocco annexed the previous Spanish colony in 1975, which unleashed a 16-year struggle after which 30 years of diplomatic and navy stalemate between Morocco and the Polisario Entrance, a corporation in search of Western Sahara’s independence that’s based mostly in and backed by Algeria. The long-running territorial dispute has restricted Western Sahara’s hyperlinks with the skin world.

Khatat Yanja, head of Dakhla’s regional council, appears ahead to the U.S. arrival opening up his metropolis to new markets and persuading extra vacationers to get pleasure from its seashores, native wares and breathtaking sunsets. He expressed hope for U.S. funding in tourism, renewable vitality, farming and particularly fishing.

“We respect such a gesture,” Yanja mentioned of the longer term consulate. “It is going to open a brand new chapter altogether with regards to funding on this area, by way of using individuals and creating extra sources. It is going to additionally open extra doorways for worldwide commerce.”

The principle fishing port is the lifeline of the native economic system, using 70% of Dakhla’s work pressure. 1000’s of boats herald 500,000 tons of fish per 12 months, for exports value 2.2 billion dirhams ($249 million) yearly, in accordance with port director Bintaleb Elhassan.

Beneath flocks of honking seagulls, fishermen haul sardines and mackerel to warehouses the place the catch is auctioned off from neatly lined trays. In close by processing vegetation, rows of girls, together with migrants from round Africa, clear and type the fish.

Morocco tightly polices the area. On a current go to to Dakhla, authorities intently monitored an Related Press reporter in the way in which each guests and residents typically are.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Schenker visited Dakhla and Western Sahara’s greatest metropolis, Laayoune, on Saturday. He and Moroccan Overseas Minister Nasser Bourita are anticipated to unveil a brief diplomatic outpost on Sunday.

Whereas the consulate isn’t anticipated to open for an additional six to 12 months, Schenker’s journey is a approach for the U.S. to cement its dedication to Western Sahara earlier than President Donald Trump leaves workplace.

Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, helped dealer a normalization deal between Morocco and Israel introduced final month, a part of a collection of historic accords that received Arab international locations main favors from Washington in trade.

Trump mentioned the objective of the Western Sahara consulate could be “to advertise financial and commerce alternatives within the area,” which is concerning the measurement of Colorado and is believed to have appreciable offshore oil deposits and mineral sources.

The Polisario Entrance’s consultant on the United Nations, Sidi Omar, appealed Saturday for the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to reverse Trump’s resolution.

“The U.S. can’t each help the U.N.’s function in resolving Western Sahara battle and endorse Moroccan sovereignty,” Omar tweeted.

Western Sahara’s economic system is run by Morocco, which has constructed a lot of the territory’s infrastructure and inspired Moroccans to settle there. However the United Nations and most world governments don’t acknowledge Moroccan sovereignty over the land, limiting Morocco’s skill to export its sources and complicating commerce offers.

For many individuals in Dakhla, a minimum of those that are allowed to talk to visiting journalists, native considerations seem to outweigh geopolitical ones. Residents commute to work, promote clementines, store for jewellery, get pleasure from native specialties in sidewalk cafes and frolic with their canines on tranquil seashores.

The U.S. recognition of Western Sahara as Morocco’s drew criticism from the U.N. and America’s allies. African observers have mentioned it may destabilize the broader area, already struggling towards Islamist insurgencies and migrant trafficking.

The motion has significantly angered Sahrawis, who desire a referendum on the territory’s future, and neighboring Algeria, which hosts Sahrawi refugees and backs the Polisario. Schenker additionally visited Algeria in current days.

The U.S. shall be becoming a member of a small however rising variety of international locations with consulates within the territory, the latest representing Gambia.

“Gambia feels a way of gratitude for Morocco’s help, together with Morocco constructing the brand new Overseas Ministry constructing in Gambia. Additionally, Morocco continues to grant instructional grants for Gambian college students,” Consul Common Ousmane Badjie informed The AP in his workplace, the place a portrait of the Moroccan king additionally hangs.

Sahrawi activists held protests in a number of Spanish and French cities over the U.S. transfer, however Washington didn’t immediately deal with their considerations when the State Division formally notified Congress on Dec. 24 of its plans to open a consulate.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned solely that the USA “will proceed to help political negotiations to resolve the problems between Morocco and the Polisario inside the framework of Morocco’s autonomy plan.”


Matt Lee in Washington and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.


This story corrects the spelling of Yanja is the sixth paragraph.


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