Political parties in Mauritania have to sign a framework agreement for peace, after Libya’s leader and African Union chairman Moammar Qaddafi was accused of bias in his attempts at mediation. Opposition politicians walked out on a speech to parliament by Qaddafi, March 11, saying that he was siding with the military rulers who seized power in a coup last year.
Despite the walk-out, Qaddafi said that June 6, the date set for new presidential elections by the junta, would be the new beginning for the African nation. The opposition, which had been calling for ousted president Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi to be returned to power, rejected the date proposed by the junta. “We had been expecting mediation rather than support for one of the two parties,” said Mohamed Ould Maouloud, a leader of the National Front for the Defence of Democracy (FNDD). “It shocked us that he [Qaddafi] adopted the date of June 6 for a return to legality, and we do not agree with the timetable set by the junta.” (AlJazeera, March 12)
Meanwhile, Black Mauritanians are pressing the issue of slavery, which has been outlawed for decades in Mauritania but they say continues to exist. One group of ex-slaves have broken off from their former masters to establish their own desert commune told the UN news agency IRIN Jan. 15 that their freedom exists only in theory. Mbareck Ould Mahmoude, 50, told IRIN laws banning slavery have failed to improve living conditions for victims of slavery. He said that repeated declarations abolishing slavery have only prompted masters to pay their slaves a pittance—while taking no responsibility for the well-being, actually worsening conditions of poverty and dependence:
My mother and sisters are still working now for the same people as during the times of open slavery. They are now paid $27 a month, but that is not enough to live on… New slavery is worse than that of the old days. Today, you get a negligible amount for heavy work. You have to support yourself and your family unlike the old days of slavery, when you were called a slave but at least your food and housing were paid for by your masters.