A file photo taken on February 3, 2017 shows Saharawi men holding up a Polisario Front flag in the Al-Mahbes area near Moroccan soldiers guarding the wall separating the Polisario controlled Western Sahara from Morocco. AFP / Stringer
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The first U.N.-backed discussions on the disputed Western Sahara region since 2012 opened in Geneva Wednesday, but expectations remained low, with the meeting seen as just a first step toward resuming dialogue. Six years after direct talks broke down, Morocco and the Polisario Front, which fought a war over the region until a 1991 cease-fire, are taking part in two days of round-table discussions along with Algeria and Mauritania.Awaiting a settlement, between 100,000 and 200,000 refugees live precariously in camps near the town of Tindouf in western Algeria, not far from the Moroccan and Western Sahara borders.The last direct talks were launched by the U.N. in 2007 but collapsed some five years later over the territory's status and the proposed referendum.Nour Bakr, with the non-profit Independent Diplomat which advises the Polisario Front, meanwhile called for more EU support for the process, lamenting that the bloc is negotiating major trade deals with Morocco that involve Western Sahara.
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