At a meeting in February the council had considered four options for the future of the nation. They included a proposal by James Baker, a former U.S. secretary of state who is currently UN secretary general Kofi Annan’s special envoy to Western Sahara. Baker had proposed that Western Sahara remain under Moroccan rule with some measure of "autonomy." The Moroccan king, backed by London, Paris, and Washington, pushed for Baker’s plan, but failed to win agreement from the other members of the Security Council.
The Polisario Front, the organization that has led the independence struggle in Western Sahara, viewed the decision as a victory over attempts by the regime in Rabat to legitimize its occupation of Western Sahara.
The Sahrawi people have been fighting foreign occupation of their territory for decades. A growing independence struggle in the Western Sahara against Spanish colonial rule forced Madrid to withdraw from the area in 1975. The Spanish imperialists engineered an invasion and occupation of the land by the neighboring Mauritanian and Moroccan regimes. Tens of thousands of Sahrawis were driven from their homes by the occupation forces and into refugee camps in the middle of the Algerian desert. Four years later, Mauritania--facing a financially draining guerrilla war by Sahrawi liberation fighters led by the Polisario Front--withdrew from the territory it controlled and recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).
The guerrilla war between the Polisario Front and the Moroccan regime continued through 1991 when the United Nations brokered a cease-fire between Rabat and the Polisario Front. The accord included an agreement to allow Sahrawis living in the occupied part of their country, in the liberated zones, and the refugee camps located across the border in Algeria to vote in a referendum over their sovereignty. The monarchy, with United Nations complicity, has put up many obstacles to avoid a vote.
Morocco still occupies two thirds of Western Sahara, including the phosphate mine at Bu Craa, the entire coastline, and nearly all the arable land. The phosphate deposit--a major source of income for the Moroccan rulers--is one of largest in the world.
Sahrawis gain support
The Sahrawi people and their government continue to win international solidarity with their struggle.
Heads of state at the founding of the African Union in Durban, South Africa, in early July, reaffirmed their support for Sahrawi self-determination. A representative of the SADR was appointed as a member of the union’s executive body and serves as one of the union’s five vice presidents. The Moroccan regime, which was not a member of the AU’s predecessor, the Organization of African Unity, did not participate in the Durban meeting.
A month earlier members of the Union of Youth of the Polisario Front met with the Youth of Moroccan Democrats (YMD) in Paris. According to Western Sahara Weekly News, the YMD called for working "for the right to self-determination for the peoples of the Maghreb, the right to peace, to liberty, to justice and to democracy." The Maghreb is the territory of northwest Africa that includes Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, and Western Sahara. The Polisario youth said the meeting represented a starting point for further discussion between the two organizations.
Within the occupied territory of Western Sahara resistance has continued against the monarchy. Representatives from the area took part in the first national congress of the Forum for Truth and Justice--an organization representing victims of the Moroccan regime--held in Casablanca, June 16-18. Seventy-nine people were elected to its national council including five from Western Sahara.
The Western Sahara Weekly News reported that 20 Sahrawi youth in the Skikima area of or war" and "the whole country or martyrdom" were distributed during a large festival in memory of a local religious leader. A banner declaring, "Sahrawi masses celebrate the anniversary of May 20 with the theme ‘despite repression we are a people who do not die’ and ‘we congratulate Sahrawi human rights defenders, particularly Sidi Mohamed Daddach’" was prominently displayed. Daddach spent 23 years in Moroccan jails before being released in November 2001, after a concerted campaign distributed during a large festival in memory of a local religious leader. A banner declaring, "Sahrawi masses celebrate the anniversary of May 20 with the theme ‘despite repression we are a people who do not die’ and ‘we congratulate Sahrawi human rights defenders, particularly Sidi Mohamed Daddach’" was prominently displayed. Daddach spent 23 years in Moroccan jails before being released in November 2001, after a concerted campaign for his freedom that drew international support.
Meanwhile, the SADR released 100 Moroccan prisoners of war in June after talks with the German government. After the release, the Polisario Front pointed out that 226 Sahrawi prisoners of war remain imprisoned in Morocco.
Annalucia Vermunt is a member of the Meat Workers Union in Christchurch, New Zealand.
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