North Africa Theater
After more than 20 years in captivity, 404 prisoners of war have returned home to Morocco, the last of more than 2,400 freed by Western Sahara's Polisario Front independence movement. Two privately chartered planes carrying the prisoners, some of them more than 60 years old, landed in the southern city of Agadir. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the prisoners' release in Tindouf, southwest Algeria, followed US mediation. They were captured by the Polisario in the guerrilla war sparked by Rabat's 1975 annexation of the desert territory. The soldiers' return home could ease tension between Morocco and the Polisario's main backer Algeria, major players in a region where the West seeks stability and cooperation against Islamic militants.
In an Aug. 1 statement, Amnesty International expresses concern about the recent arrest and detention of six human rights defenders in Western Sahara, and reports that two of them had been tortured. Some of those arrested are former "disappeared", others are former prisoners of conscience.
It seems that Mommar Qaddafi's Libya, of all places, has been overlooked by the current Bush "regime change" offensive. Now that sanctions have been lifted, an opposition is starting to emerge, and appears (in contrast to its counterparts in Syria, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Cuba, etc.) to be independent of Washington and the West.
Excerpt from a report by Moroccan news agency MAP (via M&C News):
Laayoune, 19 June: Hundreds of citizens today Sunday held a protest at the Hassan I Airport in Laayoune against the scheming intentions and provocative attempts of the Spanish pro-separatist activists who are trying to visit the town despite the Moroccan authorities' refusal to let them step on national soil.
Speaking in Algeirs, Polisario Front leader Mohamed Abdelaziz called for a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. "We won't opt for violence. We will continue to fight through peaceful means," he told a news conference. But he also called on the international community to investigate the recent repression and especially the ongoing detention of dozens of people following last months protests in Western Sahara.
France will "soon" offer Libya a cooperation agreement to help Tripoli develop its civilian nuclear energy program, the French foreign ministry said today. "The principle of cooperation in the area of peaceful applications of nuclear energy is a given, but the content has yet to be defined. We're still in the exploratory phase," said ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei. "We will soon offer an agreement to the Libyans on what can be done."
The British oil company Dana Petroleum announced May 26 it has acquired a large interest in the ongoing oil explorations offshore Morocco's town of Safi. Dana, based in Scottish Aberdeen, produces oil in the British sector of the North Sea and Russia, but is engaged in explorations in Mauritania, Senegal, Ghana and Kenya. It holds that the waters off central Morocco are promising and under-explored.
Thirty-seven Islamists have been charged in Mauritania with belonging to an illegal group after being arrested last month on suspicion of links to a organization tied to al-Qaeda. Another 14 were released May 27, and some accused the authorities of torture during their detention. "I was arrested and freed without knowing why," lawyer Mohamed Haj Ould Sidi told a news conference. "Those detained near me were regularly tortured and I had a lot of trouble sleeping because of their screams." Imam Ahmed Jiddou Ould Abdallahi, who was also detained, told reporters he had been tortured.