The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 67/No. 23           July 7, 2003  
UN plan delays vote on
Western Sahara sovereignty
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CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand—On May 23 United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan presented a report to the UN Security Council on the decolonization of Western Sahara. The council has extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum (MINURSO) in Western Sahara to July, while the council considers this report.

Annan’s report recommends the implementation of a “peace plan” drafted by his envoy, James Baker, former U.S. secretary of state. Annan claims the proposal is a compromise between an earlier framework agreement, which would have placed Western Sahara as an autonomous region under the control of Morocco, and the 1989 settlement plan, which included a referendum where the Sahrawi people would vote on their status, backed by Polisario.

The Polisario Front, founded in 1973, has led the fight for the national liberation of Western Sahara first against Spanish rule, and then against the Moroccan and Mauritanian invasion of their land after Spain’s withdrawal in 1975. Polisario’s forces defeated Mauritania’s troops in 1979 and forced their departure. The war against Moroccan occupation continued until a UN-brokered ceasefire was signed in 1989, which produced the settlement plan.

The latest report comes in the wake of Annan’s moves in February last year to force a “take-it-or-leave-it” resolution to the conflict. Baker prepared the “framework agreement” in 2001 offering “autonomy” to Western Sahara while allowing the Moroccan government to continue its occupation, basically scuttling the settlement plan. Washington and Paris hope that giving a new face to the Moroccan occupation will defuse the Sahrawi liberation struggle and allow them to maintain imperialist control over the phosphate-rich area.

Morocco is due to sign a free-trade agreement with Washington by the end of the year.

The Sahrawi people have a decades-long record of fighting against imperialist domination and championing the position that the natural resources of the country are the patrimony of the Sahrawis, which the imperialist powers view as a threat to their interests in the region.

The earlier settlement plan had been agreed to by both Morocco and the Polisario Front. The plan provided for a referendum on colonialism or independence for Western Sahara. Morocco consistently blocked implementation of this plan, with U.S. backing. In December 1999 the United Nations published a list of 86,425 identified voters. Morocco has since filed 131,000 appeals, delaying the referendum for years.

The new “peace plan” proposes a period of four years of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty followed by a referendum that would include those resident in Western Sahara since 1999. In response to the Baker plan, Polisario outlined the many perils for the Sahrawi people during the autonomy period, as it is proposed, and the problem of the new criteria for eligibility to vote in a referendum. The Moroccan occupiers moved 170,000 Moroccans into Western Sahara in September 1991 and another 50,000 in January 1998, and they now want to give the right to vote to many of these settlers.

Mohamed Abdelaziz, president of the Sahrawi Republic, told the Polisario Front’s 30th anniversary celebrations in the refugee camps in Algeria, “After 30 years of struggle, fighting, and sacrifices, and 12 years of the UN Settlement Plan, the Polisario Front, which abhors terrorism and intimidation, will remain strongly behind its lofty objectives and principles, including to enable the people of Western Sahara alone to exercise freely their right to vote for freedom, self-determination, and independence.”

According to a Sahara Press Service report, Abdelaziz emphasized that the goal of the ceasefire was to hold a referendum on self-determination. “The Sahrawis can go back to arms if such goal is not realized,” he pointed out.  
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