Western Sahara: Morocco proposes autonomy

Morocco has announced it will present an autonomy plan for Western Sahara to the United Nations next month in hopes of ending the three-decade conflict. The plan would give the occupied territory a parliament, a chief of state, cabinet and judiciary, said Khalihenna Ould Errachid, King Mohamed VI’s chief adviser on the territory. “We can stay at an impasse, or seek a middle way that leaves neither winners nor losers —and that’s autonomy,” he said. A Western Sahara parliament could create laws as long as they do not violate Morocco’s national law, while regional courts would fall under the Moroccan legal system, he said, adding that Morocco would retain control of foreign relations, defense, finance and border control. Western Sahara would also keep Morocco’s flag, currency and stamps. King Mohamed VI would continue to be recognized as the highest religious authority in the land. But the Polisario Front resistance movement, which has observed a ceasefire since 1991, insists on a referendum on independence. The UN has officially endorsed this solution, but it has languished for years, while Morocco’s occupation is becoming normalized. Last year, the European Union signed a fishing deal with Morocco allowing European fleets acess to Western Sahara’s waters. (AP, March 2 via Africast)

The Polisario Front bitterly protests growing international accomodation with Morocco’s autonomy plan. Mohamed Abdelaziz, Poliario leader and president of the Saharawi Republic government, issued an open letter to French President Jacques Chirac Feb. 12, objecting to his characterization of the autonomy plan as “constructive,” and accusing him of “lending support to the policy of Moroccan illegal occupation.” (Sahara Press Service, Feb. 12)

That same day, the Saharawi ambassador in Algiers, Mohamed Yeslem Beissat, denounced on Algerian radio the new arms contract concluded between Spain and Morocco, calling it an “irresponsible” act and demanding its annulment. In Spain, the National Coordinator of Associations in Solidarity with the Sahara (CEAS) likewise condemned the contract, charging that “it encourages the continuation of the illegal occupation” of Western Sahara. (CEAS, Feb. 12)

In a Feb. 27 celebration commemorating the 31st anniversary of the Saharawi Republic’s declaration at the Polisario-controlled town of Tifariti, Abdelaziz blasted the autonomy plan as “a vain attempt to legitimize the Moroccan occupation and fait accompli in the Western Sahara.” (Sahara Press Service, Feb. 27)

See our last post on Western Sahara.