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Polisario Front independence leader Abdelaziz buried

Mohamed Abdelaziz, who died on Tuesday, spent more than 40 years fighting for independence for disputed territory
Mourners and members of Sahrawi People's Liberation Army pray next to coffin of Polisario Front leader Mohamed Abdelaziz during his funeral on Saturday in Bir Lahlou, Western Sahara. (AFP)

Mohamed Abdelaziz, the leader of the Western Sahara independence movement Polisario Front who died of lung cancer on Tuesday, was buried on Saturday in the disputed territory.

The 68-year-old Abdelaziz spent more than 40 years fighting for independence for the territory, and was buried in part of the Western Sahara not controlled by Morocco.

Local Sahrawi people are campaigning for the right to self-determination, but Morocco considers the territory to be part of the kingdom and insists its sovereignty cannot be challenged.

A detachment of Polisario fighters presented arms to their former leader, whose coffin was draped with the flag of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which the movement proclaimed in 1976.

Abdelaziz was secretary general of the group for most of its decades-long struggle to win independence for the former Spanish colony, but succumbed to a "long illness" on Tuesday.

On Friday, his body was displayed in a camp for Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf, 1,800 kilometres southwest of the Algerian capital Algiers, to allow delegations and dignitaries to pay homage.

Algeria is the Polisario Front's main backer, and Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal was among those who paid tribute to Abdelaziz in Tindouf.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika decreed eight days of mourning after the independence leader's death.

Abdelaziz had led the Polisario since 1976, three years after the group was founded to struggle for independence for the territory, which Morocco annexed in 1975.

Abdelaziz's successor will be selected at an extraordinary conference within 40 days. The president of the Sahrawi National Council, Khatri Addouh, will lead the group in the interim, according to Polisario sources.

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