Western Saharawis

The territory has been described as one of the most desolate places in the world. But it is also one of the most hotly disputed pieces of land on the planet as well, and has been the subject of a bitter battle for self determination and independence for decades.

The indigenous people say two thirds of their land has been annexed with many of them displaced and dispossessed. There are attempts to replace them with illegal settlers and there’s even a massive barrier, or wall, which has been built in defiance of the United Nations and the International Court of Justice.

Revolutionary leaders like Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuala’s Hugo Chavez have voiced their support and solidarity for these Arabs. And no. I am NOT talking about Palestine.

What makes this story all the more tragic is the fact I am referring to the Western Saharawis who are demanding the right to vote for self determination at the very least.

In the meantime, land-grabbing Morocco is trying to convince the world that the Saharawis are happy to be part of Morocco and that only a few trouble-makers want independence.

If it is so confident of its position, why doesn’t Morocco allow the Saharawis a vote to determine their own future.

Morocco obviously wants to keep the Western Sahara for itself and create a Greater Morocco. King Mohamed VI of Morocco publicly insisted: “We shall not give up one inch of our beloved Sahara, not a grain of its sand.”. Yet the similarities between the Western Saharawis and Palestinians is striking, but if I dare to make comparisons in some Arab circles I am castigated.

“We don’t need the Arab world divided anymore than it already is and the creation of another state will do nothing to help the Arab cause,” I was told by a respected politician from the Middle East.

However, neighbouring Algeria also sees itself as an important player in this conflict, although officially the country says it is merely defending the rights of nations to self-determination.

In the meantime the plight of nearly 200,000 refugees who live in spartan camps in a south west corner of Algeria, goes largely unoticed with the exception of a few aid agencies.

The UN has spent more than $600 million on peacekeeping efforts in over the last two decades. In the meantime, not one country or international organization recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara while more than 30 states around the world recognize the right of the indigenous people to have their own country. Even Morocco’s closest ally The United States of America is reluctant to intervene in the territory which is about the size of the state of Colorado.

But guess what? International apathy is about to change – oil and gas has been found in the region and there’s growing interest over the Boujdour Block, a 27 million acre expanse claimed by Western Sahara. The Block stretches from the Sahara’s cliff-lined shores to depths of more than 10,000 feet in the Atlantic Ocean.

Corporate America, and oil companies in China, Australia and elsewhere are starting to take an interest in what lies beneath the desert and ocean sands.

In the meantime, the struggle, led by the Polisario Front, which was originally formed in 1973 to fight Spanish colonialism, continues.

{mosimage}A UN settlement plan, based on a referendum in which the Western Saharan people would exercise their right to self-determination by choosing between independence and integration in Morocco, is deadlocked. Moroccan stalling and attempting to inflate the voter roll.

If you want a quick history lesson, here goes: Morocco annexed the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara (formerly Spanish Sahara) in 1976, and the rest of the territory in 1979, following Mauritania’s withdrawal. A guerrilla war with the Polisario Front contesting Morocco’s sovereignty ended in a 1991 UN-brokered cease-fire; but a UN-organized referendum on final status has been postponed many, many times.

Meanwhile, the Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro), which in February 1976 formally proclaimed a government-in-exile of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) is recognized by and has a seat on the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

What really concerns me now is the intransigent attitude of most of the Arab world to the plight of the Saharawis.

Why can’t they see that Morocco’s designs on expanding its territory into the Western Sahara will pose a long-term threat to the Palestinians and their struggle?

While they shout from the rooftops over illegal occupations, dispossessed people and the invasion of Israeli settlers they remain silent over the plight of the Saharawis. Even the late King Hassan II of Morocco reluctantly agreed that there should be a referendum. In the meantime Morocco, like Israel, continues to raise two fingers at the UN Security Council.

What concerns me is that the Zionist and/or pro-Israeli lobby in Washington is now beginning to support Morocco and their agenda is quite clear.

If Morocco can bend, twist and ignore international law – and win then it creates a very dangerous precedent.

Should the Moroccans finally succeed in getting UN support for their autonomy proposal—which bears a striking resemblance to the plan Israel would like to see the Palestinians accept – imagine how it will be seized upon and used against Palestine.

I can see the Israeli UN Ambassador proclaiming that if Morocco can overturn international law by getting legal approval for its illegal settlers in the occupied territory, then why can’t the UN Security Council do the same for Israel.

Just imagine, overnight the tens of thousands of illegal Israeli settlers would have legal status and Jerusalem would fall completely into the hands of the Zionist state.

Ironically, if this happens, it will have been delivered by the Arab countries which have supported Morocco’s outrageous claims.

In a nutshell, if Morocco’s land-grabbing activities are finally approved by the UN then Israel will have all the justification under international law it needs to do exactly the same. A precedent will have been set.

This is not some fantasy, this could be a grim reality. Friends of Morocco (and Israel) are presently working overtime in Washington trying to lobby support of Congress.

Morocco and its Arab supporters should hang their heads in shame because of the unholy alliances they are making to the detriment of the Palestinians.

The influential American Jewish Committee has already sent a letter of support for King Mohamed VI, who combines being chair of the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s Committee for Jerusalem with being one of Israel’s best friends in the Arab world.

And guess what? The fear factor is being ruthlessly and shamelessly used to garner support from politicians across the west.

Al Qaida terrorists are setting up training camps in the Polisario’s heartlands – a stuff of ridiculous nonsense but it sure fires up the republicans on Capitol Hill who fell hook, line and sinker for the links between Saddam and 9/11.

In the meantime the Saharawi people continue to suffer as do the Palestinians. You really can not support one without the other.

And if you deny the Saharawis then you are betraying the Palestinians.

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