Mauritania moves towards democracy ...except for slaves

A little over a year ago, Mauritania's long-ruling dictator Maoya Sidi Ahmed Ould Taya was overthrown in a coup d'etat led by Col. Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, who promised to usher in democracy. This June, a popular referendum approved a new constitution instating a limit of two five-year presidential terms, preventing consolidation of a new Taya-style presidency-for-life. European Union observors have just arrived in the country to monitor the municipal and parliamentary election slated for November. Presidential elections are to be held in January. (AngolaPress, Sept. 7; VOA, June 11) The African Liberation Forces of Mauritania (FLAM), which has long boycotted the political process as illegitimate, will apparently be participating. From AngolaPress Sept. 5:

Nouakchott - The opposition Mauritanian African Liberation Forces/Renovation (FLAM/R) is preparing to participate in all elections planned in the country, according to Mamadou Bocar Ba, leader of the party.

Bocar Ba, however, told PANA in an interview here Sunday "that our participation will be made jointly with the Coalition of the Forces for Change (CFC)", an alliance comprising 11 parties once opposed to former President Maaouya Ould Sid`Ahmed Taya`s regime.

He said FLAM/R was preparing to apply for official recognition.

The FLAM/R was organised last February following the break-up of the Mauritanian African Armed Liberation Forces (FLAM), a radical movement that emerged in 1983, which initially insisted on armed struggle to push for democracy in the country.

FLAM/R had waged a "YES" campaign during the 25 June constitutional referendum.

But elements of the FLAM remain skeptical, noting that the franchise will not be extended to some 100,000 refugees pushed into neighboring Senegal and Mali in a wave of Darfur-style ethnic cleansing beginning in 1989. Nor, presumably, will it be extended to the Haratin, Mauritania's traditional slave class. FLAM notes that the slavery system, which was protected by Taya's regime, has not been challenged under Col. Vall.

At midnight New York time on Tuesday Sept. 19, FLAM's North American representative Abdarahmane Wone will speak on WW4 REPORT editor Bill Weinberg's radio show on WBAI, 99.5 FM, about the struggle to extend Mauritania's democratic opening to the Haratin and win justice for the country's exiles and enslaved.

Meanwhile, in an indication of this forgotten nation's emerging strategic importance, the Chinese National Petroleum Company's International Mauritania subsidiary is about to undertake construction of the Heron-1 exploration rig on the