UN mission in Western Sahara organizes first family visits in over 25 years

5 March 2004 –

Two groups of Saharans will today see their relatives for the first time in 25 years after the United Nations mission for Western Sahara organized two flights to mark the start of its family visits programme in the disputed territory.

This morning a plane carrying a group of refugees left Tindouf in Algeria bound for Laayoune in Western Sahara, where they will spend five days meeting relatives they have not seen since the outbreak of war on Spain's withdrawal from the area in the mid-1970s.

The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) said today in a statement that the same plane would take a separate group of Saharans from Laayoune to Tindouf later today for a similar family visit.

The family visits programme, organized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), aims to encourage weekly face-to-face contact between Saharans living in the Territory and those living in refugee camps near Tindouf.

In its statement, MINURSO said it "welcomes this humanitarian initiative and expresses its appreciation to all the parties for the high level of cooperation and good will that has made the family visits possible."

Morocco and the Frente POLISARIO (Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro) have been in dispute over the future permanent status of Western Sahara for more than two decades. MINURSO has been in place since April 1991 to try to resolve the issue.

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