Western Sahara — what has really been stolen?

The documentary film Stolen is now largely discredited.
It has been in the press recently for its controversial claim that slavery still exists among Saharawis in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara.

The film implied the Saharawi liberation organisation, the Polisario Front, permits the practice of slavery in the refugee camps. However, from its formation in 1973 the Polisario stated that all Saharawis were equal and addressed any residual issues brought to its notice.

Since its premiere at the Sydney film festival in June, a lot of evidence has come to light against the film's claims. On June 13, the 7.30 Report revealed the film's subtitles distorted some of the dialogue in crucial ways.

One subtitle translated a Saharawi woman saying: "Fetim is a slave". However, an independent translation revealed she actually said: "Violeta wants us to say Fetim is a slave".

The film's translator, Oumar Sy, only recently saw the final version of the film and has withdrew his certification. He told the July 13 Sydney Morning Herald that the filmmakers, Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw, had not corrected the subtitles despite his advice they were wrong.

The camera operator who worked on the film with Ayala and Fallshaw on their second visit to Western Sahara also sharply criticised the film's claims. He returned to the camps to take video testimony from some of the main characters in the film and UN aid workers who live in the camps.

Fetim Sellami, who is portrayed as a slave in the film, said she had withdrawn her consent to appear in the film, yet the filmmakers went ahead regardless. She said she felt tricked and betrayed by Ayala and Fallshaw, whom she had welcomed into her house and introduced to her family.

In June, she travelled to Sydney to denounce the film as a fraud and declared she was not a slave.

Several young men who appear in the film have since revealed they were offered money and gifts to make allegations about slavery for Stolen.

Some were paid up to 4000 euros to make the false claims. One man claimed two men working forthe Moroccan government offered him money to make the statements. The footage can be viewed at www.media.smh.com.au.

Given the false claims in Stolen the Melbourne International Film Festival should not run it. The Polisario Front asked the festival to not screen the film, pending investigations into its accuracy. But like the Sydney film festival, the Melbourne film festival organisers have refused this request.

For many years, the Moroccan government peddled the myth Saharawi refugees were hostages of the Polisario Front and held against their will. But this claim has little support internationally. The newer claim that Polisario endorses slavery is another case of false Moroccan propaganda.

It is designed to distract from the real issue — the legitimate right of Western Sahara to self-determination and freedom from Moroccan occupation.

Saharawi refugees live in extreme conditions in a harsh desert, behind a Moroccan built military wall, while Morocco steals their natural resources.

The documentary made a bogus claim about "stolen" children, and ignored a stolen country and its stolen resources.

[Jose Ramos Horta, President of Timor Leste will speak in Melbourne on July 23 at a meeting titled "Western Sahara and East Timor: What has really been stolen?", 5.30pm, Kino cinema 2, lower ground level, 45 Collins St, Melbourne. A short documentary on the theft of Western Sahara's natural resources will also be shown. Entry $10. For information, email .]