"We reject anything that denies our self-determination, justice, human rights, and the right to live free from foreign control. And we will continue the struggle for full independence."
Those were the words of Mohamed Fadel, secretary general of the presidency of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). He was speaking to 14 youth from Canada, France, Iceland, New Zealand, Sweden, and the United States who participated in a two-day visit to the refugee camps of Western Sahara.
The trip was organized right after the 15th World Festival of Youth and Students, held August 8-16 in Algiers, Algeria (see article on page 6). At the anti-imperialist gathering, thousands of youth from around the world came to share experiences of their struggles and discuss the most effective ways to resist the plunder of the world by the imperialist powers. Some 420 youth from Western Sahara, organized by the youth organization of the Polisario Front, Ujsario, participated in the world festival and used the occasion to expand awareness and solidarity with their decades-long struggle for self-determination.
Some of the 14 youth on the solidarity visit decided to make the trip after meeting members of the Ujsario and learning about their struggle during the festival.
During their stay, they participated in a reportback rally from the Algiers festival and visited the national hospital in the refugee camps, the radio station, the museum of captured Moroccan military equipment, and the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara. They were hosted overnight in the tents of Sahrawis in the Smara camp.
The delegation also met with the leadership of the Ujsario, the Women's Union, the Minister of Health, a local council in the Smara camp, and leaders of the Association of Family Members of Sahrawi Prisoners and Disappeared (AFAPREDESA).
Western Sahara is located on the northwestern coast of Africa, bordered by Morocco, Algeria, and Mauritania. It was a direct colony of Spain from 1884 to 1975.
The Sahrawi people fought for decades against Spanish imperialism, and in 1973 the Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Río de Oro, Polisario, was formed, launching an armed struggle for independence.
Under the 1975 Madrid Accords brokered between the governments of Spain, Mauritania, and Morocco, the Spanish government relinquished direct control of Western Sahara and handed it over to the regimes of Mauritania and Morocco, which swiftly moved in to militarily occupy the territory. The Polisario Front continued to lead the independence struggle and defeated the Mauritanian regime in 1979. The Mauritanian government withdrew from the southern third of Western Sahara and recognized the SADR government-in-exile. Moroccan forces extended their occupation into the previously Mauritania-controlled region, and have built six walls lined with military bases and land mines to defend their control from attacks by the Polisario Front, which controls a liberated zone in the eastern region.
The Moroccan government and the Polisario Front entered into a cease-fire in 1989. Two years later they signed a UN-brokered plan to hold a referendum vote by Sahrawis to decide on independence or integration with Morocco.
"The Moroccan government knows that if there were a free and fair referendum vote, they would lose and the Sahrawi people would vote for their independence," said Brahim Salem Bousseif, a representative of the Sahrawi Commission for the Referendum.
Maneuver by UN Security Council
Seeking to undercut the independence struggle, the UN Security Council, dominated by Washington, has put forward a proposal aimed at pressuring the Sahrawi liberation movement to accept a deal that falls short of self-determination. The aim of Washington, Paris, and other imperialist powers is to maintain their control of the phosphate-rich area by giving a new face to the occupation by the Moroccan regime. The proposal, the so-called third way, would give territorial "autonomy" to Western Sahara, while allowing the Moroccan government to continue its occupation and control over the region.
Former U.S. secretary of state James Baker, the emissary on Western Sahara for the UN Security Council, will meet with members of the Polisario Front and others August 27 to discuss this proposal.
"The people feel betrayed by the referendum we agreed to a decade ago," Bousseif said. "Now, after so many years, the UN is acting as though we did not agree to a referendum vote and is putting forward the 'framework agreement,' which gives Western Sahara to Morocco. This proposal is just another form of integration and denial of our self-determination."
The attempts by the imperialist powers to pressure the Polisario Front come as frustration among the Sahrawi people grows in face of the foot-dragging of the Moroccan regime on a referendum vote.
The international delegation met with Brahim Dahi and Mohamed Tamik, members of the Executive Committee of AFAPREDESA. They spoke about a September 1999 demonstration for self-determination held by Sahrawis in the occupied territory, which was attacked by the police. Some 1,500 protesters were taken into police custody and 27 protesters were convicted for various offenses and given prison terms of 5-15 years each.
They also showed video coverage of a May Day rally held in the occupied capital of Western Sahara this year that was called by the Moroccan Workers Union. Although the union officially supports the regime's occupation of Western Sahara, Sahrawis were able to participate in the rally to demand that the Moroccan government release information about the hundreds of Sahrawis who are "disappeared" or political prisoners.
A coming issue of the 'Militant' will have further coverage on the solidarity visit to Western Sahara.
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