Spain’s foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos began talks May 30 with his Moroccan and Algerian counterparts in the latest attempt to find a solution to the decades-long conflict in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. Mohamed Benaissa of Morocco and Algerian Abdelaziz Belajadem met Moratinos in Luxembourg to discuss the recent outbreak of violence in the mineral-rich former Spanish colony, where supporters of the Algeria-backed Polisario Front independence movement have been battling police in the territory’s main city, Laayoune.
Moratinos said he would make an appeal for “calm” in what has been described as the “Saharawi Intifada.” Also May 30, the Polisario Front called on the United Nations to intervene to protect the people of Western Sahara, citing the Moroccan authorities’ “fierce repression” of demonstrators there.
“The UN and the Security Council must intervene rapidly to put an end to the repressive practices of the Moroccan authorities against the defenceless Saharawi people,” Mohammad Ould Salek, a spokesman for the independence movement told the Algerian APS news agency. Sahrawi sources say the violence in Laayoune has left some 50 people injured and led to dozens of arrests and “disappearances.”
Protests have also been held in the Spanish cities of Seville and Almeria to urge an end to the repression in the Western Sahara and support the Saharawi people’s right to independence. The protesters accused Spain’s Zapatero government of “passiveness” in the face of the Moroccan authorities’ continuing clampdown on the territory.
Algiers has traditionally backed the Polisario Front, which is based in southwestern Algeria. Last week, Algeria’s president Abdelaziz Bouteflika triggered fresh tensions with Morocco when he sent a letter to the independence movement’s leader Muhammed bin Abdelaziz, indicating Algeria’s support for “your cause and all fights for freedom”.
Earlier in May, the Polisario Front threatened to resume its armed struggle against Moroccan occupation forces if there is no breatkthrough in UN-led peace talks on the territory’s final status. Algeria insists on UN mediation of the Western Sahara dispute, although Morocco would like to hold bilateral talks with Algeria over the territory.
A UN-brokered plan proposing that Western Sahara become a semi-autonomous region of Morocco for a transitional period of up to five years – followed by a referendum on independence – has been stalled since July 2003. The Polisario Front signalled its readiness to accept, but Morocco rejected the plan, citing security concerns. The two sides are also at odds over who is eligible to vote in the proposed referendum. (AKI, May 30)
Meanwhile, the online Arabic News reports the Polisario Front is threatening to resort to “terror acts” against Morocco, citing comments made by Saharawi tribesman Ali Salem Tamek in the May 29 edition of the Spanish daily El Mondo. Ali Salem Tamek reportedly said he was preparing for attacks on Morocco under the orders of Polisario chief Mohamed Abdelaziz. But Arabic News makes its biases clear, writing that Tamek was expelled by his Ait Oussa tribe “for advocating the separation of the Moroccan Southern provinces, known as the Sahara, from the rest of the Kingdom…” (No government on earth recognizes Moroccan soveriegnty over Western Sahara.)
Arabic News also noted that ten days ago the Washington Times daily called for “applying the same treatment reserved to terrorist organisations to the ‘Polisario’ Front.” A pro-Morocco lobbying group in Washington, the American Council for Moroccan Prisoners, has also called for the State Department to include the Polisario Front on the official list of terrorist organizations. (Arabic News, May 30)
“Moroccan Prisoners” is a reference to Moroccan POWs being held by the Polisario Front at its camp in Tindouf, Algeria. Amnesty International has called for the release of the Moroccans and expressed concern about the conditions they face. (Arabic News, May 26)
See our last post on the Western Sahara Intifada.