Category: Land of Western Sahara


RABAT – Morocco said Sunday it will pull back from a zone of the contested Western Sahara that has raised tensions with Algeria-backed Polisario Front separatists.

“The Kingdom of Morocco will proceed from today with a unilateral withdrawal from the (Guerguerat) zone,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

It said the decision was taken by King Mohammed VI at the request of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Rabat now “hopes the secretary general’s intervention will allow a return to the previous situation in the zone concerned, keep its status intact, allow the flow of normal road traffic and thus safeguard the ceasefire”, it said.

In a telephone call to Guterres on Friday, the king called on the United Nations to take urgent measures to end “provocation” by the Polisario Front threatening a 1991 ceasefire.

Morocco insists that the former Spanish colony is an integral part of its kingdom, but the Polisario is demanding a referendum on self-determination.

The two sides fought for control of the Western Sahara from 1975 to 1991, with Rabat gaining control of the territory before the UN-brokered ceasefire took effect.

In the phone call, King Mohammed VI condemned “repeated incursion by armed Polisario men” in the Guerguerat district.

Tensions flared last year after the Polisario set up a new military post in Guerguerat district near the Mauritanian border, within a stone’s throw of Moroccan soldiers.

The move came after Morocco last summer started building a tarmac road in the area south of the buffer zone separating the two sides.

Source: Middle East Online.



Rabat – Rival protests were held on Friday outside a military tribunal in the Moroccan capital where 24 Sahrawis accused of killing members of the security forces in the Western Sahara in 2010 are being tried.

The politically charged trial, which is being attended by a number of independent foreign observers, has been repeatedly delayed, with the defendants held in custody for more than two years.

The authorities say 11 people died in the clashes, among them members of the security forces, which broke out as the army moved to dismantle the Gdim Izik camp where thousands of local Sahrawis were living in November 2010.

The Sahrawis arrested during the unrest are accused of violence against the security forces, of pre-meditated killing and of mutilating the victims’ bodies.

Some 100 people demonstrated outside the court in Rabat on Friday, among them families of the victims, pro-Saharwi activists and relatives of the accused, many of whom were allowed to attend the trial, an AFP journalist said.

Some relatives of the victims remained outside the tribunal, waving banners that read: “We know who the killers are, so where is justice?”

Ahead of the trial, observers and rights groups expressed concern over allegations the defendants were tortured in custody, about the case being tried by a military court, and about the possible death penalty facing the accused, if convicted.

At dawn on 8 November 2010, Moroccan security forces moved to dismantle the Western Sahara camp, near the territory’s main city of Laayoune, which thousands of Sahrawis had set up in protest over their living conditions.

The intervention sparked clashes that spread to nearby Laayoune, where businesses and public buildings were looted and torched.

The authorities said 11 were killed in the unrest, while the Algeria-based Polisario Front separatists said dozens of people lost their lives.

Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975, in a move never recognized by the international community.

The Polisario Front launched its struggle for independence even before the annexation, with the resulting war lasting until 1991 when the UN brokered a ceasefire, but a settlement of the conflict still remains elusive.


Source: News24.


By Abderrahim El Ouali

CASABLANCA, Sep 14 2011 (IPS) – Morocco’s offer of autonomy to Western Sahara to stave off demands for full independence is boomeranging on the kingdom with other regions now demanding similar freedom.

The autonomy proposal for Western Sahara was made at the United Nations in April 2007 to resolve a movement for independence simmering in the former Spanish colony.

The proposal has been consistently rejected by the Polisario front which will settle for nothing less than independence for the resource-rich territory, annexed by Morocco in 1975.

Polisario, which fought a guerrilla war until 1991 to press independence, wants the issue to be resolved through a referendum. Eight rounds of negotiations between both parties in New York have failed.

But, the Moroccan initiative has encouraged activists to launch movements for autonomy in two other regions – northern Rif and Sousse in the south of the country.

In contrast to Western Sahara’s half a million people, Rif has 2.4 million inhabitants while Sousse has a population of approximately three million, according to the last official census carried out in 2004.

Both Rif and Sousse are populated by the Amazigh, an indigenous people, whose language was recognized as an official one along with Arabic under the new constitution, adopted on Jul. 1 this year.

But the problem is not just a linguistic one. “It is completely inconceivable that a single region enjoys autonomy,” Ahmed Khanboubi, Amazigh activist and researcher in political and economic sciences, told IPS.

“If autonomy is applied in one region, it has to be there in the others. Otherwise, it would amount to discrimination against other regions and citizens,” he said.

Other experts swear by the “advanced regionalisation” plan offered by King Mohamed VI in a speech on Mar. 9.

Habib Anoune, an expert in social and economic sciences, told IPS that autonomy for regions other than Western Sahara is a “long-term hypothesis which can be part of reality as well as imagination.”

Advanced regionalisation envisages division of the country into 12 regions with each one of them having an elected council, empowered to make local policies independently of the center.

Khanboubi, however, said that regionalisation has to “emanate from citizens, to serve their interests” and not imposed on them from above. The reference was to the fact that the committee, tasked with drawing up the project, was appointed by the king and not elected democratically.

“It is necessary to take the opinion of citizens, instead of undertaking a cartographic division of the country from air-conditioned offices in Rabat,” Khanboubi said. Rabat, the capital, is 90 km north of Casablanca.

Regionalisation is not a completely new idea in Morocco. In 1971, the kingdom was divided into seven regions, and then 27 years later in 1996 King Hassan II further divided the country into 16 regions.

While a law governing regional councils was also voted in by parliament alongside, they have remained practically without any authority. “All the decisions are taken by governors,” Khanboubi said.

Governors are not elected but directly appointed by the king. The new constitution, approved in July, stipulates governors are appointed by the government.

“We have to end this supervision and let regional councils practice their full competence,” he added.

Anoune’s view is that advanced regionalisation will allow the modernization and democratization of the state by devolving authority from the center to the region.

The sticking point seems to be where to draw the line on democratization.

“The Moroccan state rushed in advanced regionalisation as a response to the movement for autonomy,” said Khanboubi. “In the future the fight for democracy will be in the regions – to establish autonomy.”

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).

Despite diplomatic setbacks, Sahrawis are optimistic that the long-simmering conflict will come to an end.

By Najib Daymani for Magharebia in Laâyoune – 06/09/11

Years of confrontation and inconclusive diplomacy have many Sahrawis wondering whether the dormant dispute will finally be resolved.

The latest round of informal Western Sahara talks ended a few weeks ago in Manhasset, New York, with plans to continue the diplomatic dialogue after the autumn session of the United Nations General Assembly.

“By the end of the meeting, each party continued to reject the proposal of the other as the sole basis for future negotiations, while reiterating their willingness to work together to reach a political solution in conformity with the pertinent resolutions of the United Nations Security Council,” said UN Western Sahara Envoy Christopher Ross.

Sahrawis, meanwhile, grow increasingly impatient with the stalled negotiations. While some have little hope for their success, others are more sanguine, pinning hopes on the Western Sahara autonomy plan. The initiative, proposed by King Mohammed VI, calls for granting broad autonomy to Western Sahara within the context of extended regionalisation.

Some Sahrawis believe that the autonomy plan will help reunite their community dispersed between the Tindouf camps in south-western Algeria and the cities of the region. Magharebia spoke to Laâyoune residents to get their perspectives.

Mohammed Lamine Ould Didi, a desert tribal sheikh, believes that the parties to the conflict need to take into consideration the humanitarian dimension of the issue.

“The disintegration of Sahrawi families can’t be accepted for long,” he said. “Therefore, the two parties have to take this matter into consideration in the next rounds of negotiations and give it priority, if they really want to move ahead in reaching an agreement on this issue.”

For political science student Mahmoud, the real problem is the lack of political will to achieve a mutually acceptable solution that earns international legitimacy.

Both sides need to conform to the UN Security Council resolutions about the need to activate serious and acceptable ideas for progressing towards the final solutions, he argued. Each party is still adhering to a position which it is sure that the other party will not accept, he added.

“Meanwhile, thousands of Sahrawis are waiting for the unknown,” Mahmoud said.

“The solution is in the Sahrawis sitting alone on a negotiations table under the auspices of international community, away from Moroccan and Algerian differences, where they can reach solutions satisfactory to them,” said former prisoner Sayyid Ahmed. “In this way, the strategic conflicts that can prevent the Maghreb peoples from realizing full integration can be avoided.”

In his turn, Yahdhih, a returnee from the Tindouf refugee camps, argued that a free and fair referendum conducted under the auspices of international community could resolve the conflict, provided that the constituency is restricted to Sahrawis living in the conflict area only.

The autonomy proposal inspires hope, he said, because “it is an important concession on the part of Morocco in this issue after its intransigence about it”.

Source: Magharebia.