The Moroccan magic formula for Western Sahara

March 29, 2007

The following opinion piece by Kamal Fadel, the Polisario Representative to Australia, is a response to Morocco's proposal for limited "autonomy" for Western Sahaha, which would include a regional government with some control over local affairs, cabinet ministries and a local judiciary. This piece was first published in <>.

In April, the UN Security Council will discuss the issue of Western Sahara and assess the first report of the new UN secretary general on this issue.

Western Sahara is the last colony in Africa. In violation of UN resolutions and a verdict of the International Court of Justice, Morocco invaded and occupied the territory in 1975 following Spain's withdrawal after almost 100 years of colonial domination.

The UN has been trying to resolve the issue through the organisation of a referendum of self-determination, but Morocco has managed to hamper and frustrate all UN peace efforts. UN presence in the territory has lasted 16 years and so far cost over US$600 million.

In recent months Morocco has increased its diplomatic campaign to "sell" its unilateral "autonomy" proposal to the members of the UN Security Council and the world at large.

Morocco has dispatched delegations to all the four corners of the world and engaged lobbyists and commentators to join its "epic" battle to win the hearts and minds of the influential members of the UN.

This "autonomy" proposal is not a new idea. It is what Morocco has been seeking to achieve since its invasion of Western Sahara in 1975. The aim is to keep Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty. It is a pseudo solution, undemocratic and aims to hijack the Saharawis' right to self-determination.

The proposal is doomed to fail because it flagrantly denies the Saharawis their inalienable right to self-determination, which is guaranteed under the UN Charter and provided for in many UN resolutions.

Morocco cannot decide the future of the Saharawis for them because that will be contrary to the UN doctrine of decolonisation. The Moroccan proposal is a dangerous attempt to derail the peace process in Western Sahara. It is an adventure towards the unknown and the UN Security Council must not support it.

Morocco wants to legitimise its grab of Western Sahara because it is rich in natural resources and large in size. Morocco has used lucrative trade agreements with Western countries, involving Saharawi resources, in order to garner support for its colonial ambitions.

The response to the Moroccan "new" proposal has been lukewarm. That is why Morocco is now trying to link Polisario, the independence movement, to terrorism and play on the fear card. Recently the Moroccan justice minister alleged that there is some cooperation between al Qaeda and Polisario.

During the Cold War, in order to support its illegal invasion of Western Sahara, Morocco claimed that Polisario was part of a Communist plot to topple the monarchy in Morocco. Now the alleged Communists of yesteryear have been rebadged as Islamic extremists!

The new UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, and the Security Council, have a real chance to resolve this straightforward but long lasting issue by insisting that Morocco allow the UN-sponsored referendum to take place.

The just resolution to this issue will bring stability and peace to the important and strategic region of North Africa. Such a resolution will also end the suffering of Saharawi people and enhance the credibility of the UN.

The resolution of the conflict will indeed benefit Morocco, which is spending millions of dollars to maintain its illegal occupation and to attract support for its untenable position. The Moroccan people continue to suffer from poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and the lack of democracy. This has made Morocco fertile ground for the recruitment of terrorists and suicide bombers. Moroccans participated in the 9-11 attacks, the Madrid train attacks and Casablanca terror attacks in 2003 and 2007.

Morocco is also known for exporting illegal migrants and drugs. Recent media reports have linked Moroccan army generals with drug trafficking from Colombia through Western Sahara.

However, no Saharawi has ever been involved in any terrorist attack. Saharawis are known for their tolerance, hospitality and generosity, even to those who tried to kill them, such as the Moroccan prisoners of war who have now all been freed as a gesture of good will.

The Saharawi people's objective is to build a modern and democratic state that guarantees basic human rights to all its citizens. The Saharawi independent nation seeks to have good relations with all its neighbours, including Morocco. The Saharawi state will be a real bulwark against violence and any form of extremism.

The current impasse is due to the fact that Morocco has been getting the wrong signal from the influential members of the Security Council. The Moroccan regime believes that by keeping an iron grip on Western Sahara, suppressing any dissent and rejecting all UN peace proposals, it would eventually be rewarded for its tenacity. Morocco wrongly believes that time is on its side and that the Saharawis will somehow disappear.

But the Moroccan "magic formula" is missing an important element, which is the fact that the Saharawis have not withered away. Instead, in their liberated areas, in the refugee camps and in the occupied zones of Western Sahara, they are steadfast and are stronger than 30 years ago. The continuous independence demonstrations in the occupied areas are a clear example of the determination of the Saharawis to achieve their independence.

The friends of Morocco have a duty to encourage King Mohamed VI to cooperate with the UN so that a just and lasting resolution to the conflict in Western Sahara can be achieved through a referendum on self-determination. Because the end of the conflict in Western Sahara will greatly benefit Morocco in many ways and the Maghreb region will enjoy stability and progress. It is a win-win situation for all.

The Security Council must encourage Morocco to cooperate with the UN so that it can implement its Settlement Plan, which was accepted by both parties to the conflict and strongly endorsed by the UN Security Council. Under no circumstances should the Council entertain Morocco's proposal for "autonomy" because it is undemocratic and outside the UN's decolonisation framework.

Any attempt to impose a fake solution on the Saharawis will only lead to more instability and is likely to trigger the resumption of hostilities.

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