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   Vol.66/No.12            March 25, 2002 
Self-determination for Western Sahara
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand--In a February 19 report to the United Nations Security Council on "the situation concerning Western Sahara," Secretary-General Kofi Annan threatened to use the UN to deny the Sahrawi people full independence of their country from Morocco.

The people of Western Sahara have fought against foreign domination of their land for decades. The country was a direct colony of Spain from 1884 to 1975. In 1975, as the independence struggle led by the Polisario Front picked up steam, the Spanish government handed Western Sahara over to the semicolonial regimes of Mauritania and Morocco.

Today Morocco, with the support of French and U.S. imperialism, continues to occupy two-thirds of Western Sahara, including the entire coastline. Close to 200,000 Sahrawis, the majority of the population, were driven off their land and live in refugee camps in Algeria, near the border, and in the liberated zone in the eastern part of the country.

The Polisario Front waged a guerrilla war to win liberation until 1991 when it entered a UN-brokered cease-fire with the Moroccan monarchy. The cease-fire was based on an agreement that Sahrawis would be allowed to hold a referendum to determine whether their nation would be independent or annexed to Morocco.  
UN discusses take-it-or-leave-it options
In his February 19 report, Annan, in reference to the agreement 11 years ago, described "a rather bleak situation with regard to the peace process in Western Sahara." The pro-imperialist UN chief equally blamed both sides in the conflict for the current impasse, stating that the "high level of animosity" between the Moroccan king and Polisario Front, accompanied by a "winner-take-all mentality," effectively ended the possibility of holding the referendum.

The UN chief's report presented four options for the Security Council to consider enforcing on the liberation forces and the Moroccan regime.

The first is to continue trying to implement the referendum plan, which would require settling more than 48,000 pending voter registration appeals by Moroccans now living in Western Sahara. To date, the Moroccan regime has made frivolous appeals, giving the UN a pretext to indefinitely delay a vote.

The second option would be to revise a plan presented last year by the special UN envoy to Western Sahara, James Baker, to offer a form of "autonomy" for the people of Western Sahara while remaining under Moroccan occupation. The Security Council would present the plan to both sides "on a nonnegotiable basis." The Polisario Front has unequivocally rejected this denial of self-determination. Baker was the treasury secretary under the Reagan administrations and secretary of state under George Bush.

Another avenue the report raises is for Baker to explore with the two sides the partition of Western Sahara. If no agreement is reached, the Security Council could present a take-it-or-leave-it proposal.

The fourth option outlined by Annan is to pull out the 260-member UN team known as the Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara.

In a statement on behalf of the Polisario Front, Fadel Ismail, head of the liberation organization's Mission for the United Kingdom and Ireland, rejected any modification of the Baker plan that would legitimize Morocco's occupation. He said that although partition of their land with the aggressor is unacceptable, the proposal "nevertheless has the merit of recognizing the right of the Sahrawi people to independence."

"It must be reminded," Ismail said, "that the full and entire sovereignty over Western Sahara belongs to the Sahrawi people alone; Morocco is only the occupying power which must consequently withdraw sooner or later from the Sahrawi territories which it is occupying illegally."

The statement scored the "intransigent and arrogant attitude of Morocco," which as a member state of the United Nations, "is allowed to get away with failing to implement the decision of the Security Council and those of the General Assembly on the Western Sahara issue, particularly those relating to the 1991 peace plan."

Ismail reiterated the Polisario's demand that the "Sahrawi people should decide their own fate through a free, fair, and transparent referendum," noting that any settlement must be based on the "Sahrawi people's right to self-determination, independence, and justice."

In an interview in Spain, Polisario secretary-general Mohamed Abdelaziz said the Sahrawi people "need to be consulted about their future. The referendum is our first priority as far as options go. The government of the SADR [Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic] has a positive attitude towards this latest report [from the UN secretary-general], not only because the referendum is the best option for finding a peaceful solution to the conflict, but also because, for the first time in 11 years, it [the report] has acknowledged the difficulty in reaching any agreement at all because of the Moroccan stance."

The Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for its part, issued a statement "unequivocally and strongly expressing its total rejection of any partition idea or any discussion on the matter."  
Struggle in occupied zone continues
As the UN Security Council discussed what it will do in regard to the Sahrawi liberation struggle, the Moroccan King Mohammed VI continued to assert his domination over Western Sahara with a March 5 visit to the occupied towns of Dakhla and El Aaiun. A week earlier, Algeria's president Abdelaziz Bouteflika visited the Polisario Front headquarters at the Smara refugee camp, the first such trip by an Algerian president since the start of the liberation struggle against Morocco. The visit coincided with the 26th anniversary celebrations of the SADR.

Resistance has continued in the occupied territory of Western Sahara. The Western Sahara Weekly News reported that the Association of Sahrawi Unemployed has held demonstrations demanding recognition of their organization by the Moroccan authorities. In spite of being assaulted by police February 14, they and others have continued protests.

Annalucia Vermunt is a member of the Meat Workers Union in Christchurch, New Zealand.  
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