Participants in the July 23 meeting heard how the Moroccan rulers benefit from exporting phosphate mined in Western Sahara to countries like New Zealand.
At Auckland University the previous day, Lakhal told students that the Western Sahara independence fight dates back to the struggle across West Africa against Spanish colonial domination. When Madrid was forced to withdraw in the 1970s, Western Sahara was divided between Morocco and Mauritania.
The pro-independence Polisario Front fought a war against both invaders from 1976 to 1991, forcing Mauritania to withdraw from our territory, said Lakhal. Moroccos army, meanwhile, expanded its occupation and paved the way for large-scale settlement of the area. Many Saharawis were forced to flee the fighting. Today about 170,000 live in camps in southwest Algeria.
In the face of effective resistance led by Polisario Front fighters, said Lakhal, by 1991 Morocco was willing to negotiate. But they have broken every agreement made since then.
In 1999, thousands of Saharawis in all the cities of the occupied zone of Western Sahara and in the southern cities of Morocco joined the protest. For four months people got to the streets, chanting slogans in favor of the independence of their country. Hundreds [of] demonstrators were arrested, tortured, imprisoned, or abused, said Lakhal at a press conference in Sydney, Australia.
Lakhal explained how the Moroccan occupation is backed by the governments of the United States, France, and Spain. The United States endorsed the autonomy plan Morocco put forward last month, he said. The plan provides no recognition to Western Sahara as a sovereign state. The United States also controls the World Food Program, and two years ago they reduced the number of refugees they would support in the camps from 160,000 to 90,000 as part of its campaign to put pressure on the Polisario Front.
In spite of such barriers, Lakhal said the struggle is very much alive today. Every day inside the occupied zones there are political actions in support of Western Sahara.
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