Thursday, November 11, 2010

Calm Returning to Western Sahara

November 10, 2010

Rabat - Calm was returning to Western Sahara on Wednesday after two days of clashes between Moroccan security forces and local people seeking independence for the desert territory, observers said.

Violence broke out on Monday after Moroccan forces tore down a tent camp set up by some 20 000 native Saharawi (usual spelling is Sahrawi) people outside the main city of Laayoune to protest discrimination and deprivation at the hands of the Moroccan government.

A local independence movement called the Polisario Front has long been locked in a conflict with Morocco, which claims the territory.

Brahim Elansari, a human rights activist in Laayoune, said soldiers and police were patrolling the streets but some districts were returning to normal.

"You can see stores open and people walking in the streets," Elansari said by telephone.

The Polisario Front declared independence in 1976 on behalf of the nomadic Saharawi, who have their own Arabic dialect and distinct culture.

The dispute is one of the world's longest unresolved conflicts.  Each side claimed very different death tolls in the new violence.

Bucharaya Beyun, the Madrid delegate of the Polisario Front, said the death toll among Saharawis rose to 19 following the discovery of eight more bodies Tuesday.

The Polisario says another 723 people were hurt, with 159 people unaccounted for.

Morocco's official MAP news agency, meanwhile, said eight members of security forces had been killed. Morocco insists no civilians died.

Despite the clashes, informal talks between Morocco and the Polisario Front near New York City went ahead as scheduled Monday and wrapped up Tuesday.

UN special envoy Christopher Ross said the two sides were rejecting each other's proposals about how negotiations would proceed. - AP

Comment: Morocco's colonization of the Sahrawi people is one of the world's longest standing disputes that can be traced to Spain's colonization of Western Sahara.  Morrocco has built a 2700km wall in the desert known as the Berm, or Moroccan Wall, between them and the Sahrawi resistance movement (the Polisario).

The inhumane oppression and colonization of the Sahrawi people does not receive enough global attention.  President Obama has not mentioned the dispute once in the time he has been in office.

Former President Mandela called for the independence of Western Sahara in keeping with the African Union's position in 1994.  Since then the dispute has only been mentioned in passing during Mbeki's administration and not at all during Zuma's.

South Africa's political leaders have short memories no doubt.

In April this year Amnesty International called for Morocco to "end the harassment of Sahrawi activists".  See that report here.



desert demons said...

I'm not really sure if your penultimate statement on this is entirely accurate. I seem to recall during Mbeki's term that relations between Morocco and South Africa really soured because of South Africa's stance on the Polisario and the strong influence SA had over AU decisions. I also recall during that time, SA hosted the NAM Summit in Durban where this was high on the agenda - there was a very visible split and heated arguments from the Arab world in favour of Morocco. If I'm not mistaken, around 2004/2005 Morocco withdrew their ambassador from SA, threatening to cut all diplomatic ties and they refused to grant agrement to the ambassador designate of SA. I don't know if much has changed since then - I don't know if ambassadors have been appointed. Haven't heard much in Zuma's term, but would be interesting to see how government reacts to the new developments.

desert demons said...

P.S. I'm not an Mbeki apologist. Just fact-checking..... :-)

Ridwan said...

Thank you kindly for adding detail to my comments.

You are right about the Durban NAM meeting in Durban but I dismissed that venue because I thought it mere motioning despite the fracas that ensued.

In the end the position that the ANC tabled before 1994 on supporting the Polisario has floated without real teeth.

For example, none of the presidents have called for a unilateral break with Morocco if the UN agreements are not applied (considered even).

South Africa has a mediocre record on human rights in general. It is usual to posture at toothless venues but not where it counts.

Burma is an excellent example now. Indonesia in the past. And who can forget Mbeki's "soft" approach with Mugabe.

Not forgetting Israel ... !

In these terms I see the course on Morocco as motioning but you are spot on with what ensued at NAM.

I also remember (an aside) that Mbeki spent millions on imported BMW 5 series cars to ferry dignitaries around during the Durban meeting. And nothing of substance came out of the meeting.

Makes me question the value of the NAM beyond its cold war middle position.

I am not waiting for Zuma to say much on Sahrawi. :0)

Malema probably is not even aware that the situation exists so it is dead in the vociferous organs of the ruling ANC.

I attended a planning committee meeting at Dirco three weeks ago where the intelligence minister (Mo Shaik) talked a lot but never mentioned Sahrawi once ... in fact that meeting was about China and South Africa and an economic based foreign policy.

The rest (the moralising approach) is just dressing ... the ANC is a Realpolitik driven movement.

Thank you for making me think :)

Peace to you,

desert demons said...

I suppose with the NAM Summit, as with most international fora of late, its all talk and little delivery on what really matters!

Have u seen DIRCO's statement on Saharawi today? Very bland, generic attempt at condemnation of the attacks.... surprise, surprise!

Ridwan said...

Hi there. I have not seen DIRCO's statement yet.

But I am not surprised that it would be "bland" and "generic".

A big part of the problem is that DIRCO lacks expertise and vision.

The latter part became quite clear while I sat through two days of a discussion on where South Africa' foreign policy should be going.

We went no-where.

No surprises there too :)