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Appeasing Morocco is destablising north-west Africa

By Kamal Fadel - posted Thursday, 15 August 2002

The story of the people of Western Sahara is a tragic and unfortunate one. It is a vivid example of how a tolerant and moderate people are being let down by the UN and almost forgotten by the outside world.

Located on the Atlantic coast of northwest Africa, Western Sahara was a Spanish colony until 1975, when it was invaded and illegally occupied by two neighbouring countries Morocco and Mauritania.

Western Sahara is the size of Britain and is rich in mineral resources. Morocco's invasion was the result of greed and an attempt to divert attention from the regime's internal problems.


The invasion provoked a long and bloody war with the Saharawi people under the leadership of the Polisario Front, the movement that had fought for independence from Spain. Soon Mauritania gave up its claim and withdrew from the part it occupied.

Since its occupation of the Western Sahara, Morocco has embarked on a brutal campaign of human rights abuses. As a result, more than 170,000 Saharawis have fled their homeland and now live in makeshift refugee camps situated in the desert of south-west Algeria and are dependent on foreign assistance.

For the past 12 years the United Nations has been involved in finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict through the organisation of a referendum on self-determination.

Despite its efforts and the huge costs involved - more than US$500 million - the UN has so far failed to accomplish its task because of Moroccan obstructions and delaying tactics.

On July 30, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution which reaffirmed the validity of the UN and Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Settlement Plan, and rejected the "Draft Framework Agreement" proposal, which intended to give Western Sahara an autonomous status within Morocco. The Council asked the UN Secretary General and his Personal Envoy, James Baker III, to continue their efforts in order to provide a genuine opportunity for the Saharawi people to exercise their right to self-determination and report back to the Council before January 31 next year.

Throughout 26 years of occupation, the Saharawi people have conducted their struggle within international norms. They have never undertaken hijackings or suicide attacks. Terrorism was avoided from the outset but the Saharawi struggle has always been either neglected or put on the backburner.


Unfortunately, some Western powers have extended their military, financial and political backing to the Moroccan regime in its illegal occupation and terrorist war against the Saharawi people.

Morocco's brutality has been rewarded, while the patience and good behaviour of the Saharawi people are being ignored.

Morocco has been plundering the resources of Western Sahara with the complicity of some multinational corporations. Last year, two American and French oil companies, Kerr McGee and Total Fina Elf signed deals with Morocco to explore along the coast of the disputed territory.

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About the Author

Kamal Fadel is the Polisario Representative to Australia. He has been in the Polisario Front foreign relations corps since 1986 and has served in India, Iran and the UK, as a Saharawi diplomat.

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