Friday, November 26, 2010

Independence for Western Sahara

Outside Laayoune, Western Sahara

The Moroccans are a proud people, with a relatively open society that is steadily moving towards a just legal system and acceptance of diversity, except on one matter. If you're planning of going there, I only have one advice; do not discuss the status of Western Sahara unless you're prepared for a heated argument. The opinion of the rest of the world lean towards the recognition of the area as an independent state, but in Morocco, even the most educated and aware people refuse to accknowledge the suppression of hundered thousands of people.

The region had been under Spanish rule for almost a hundered years when the International Court of Justice in 1975 decided to reject Morocco's and Mauretania's claims of the territory. Spain agreed to arrange a referendum, as the International Court of Justice recognized the Saharawis' right to self-determination. But Morocco countered with the "Green March", sending 300.000 Moroccans into the territory for settlement. But the Moroccans' version of the story is a tiny bit different:

On the 6th of November 1975, civilian Moroccans marched across Moroccan Sahara seeking independence from Spain. This was known as the "Green March", because green symbolised peace. Spain finally came to an agreement with Morocco for independence of Moroccan Sahara.

This happening forced Spain to a settlement with Morocco and Mauretania - the Madrid Agreement. Morocco got two thirds in the north and Mauretania got the left-overs, ending the Spanish colonial rule. A couple of months later, the Polisario declared the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). Two years later, the Mauretanian government made a peace deal with Polisario after a coup, and resigned all territorial claims, resulting in further Moroccan occupation.

Guerilla wars between Polisario and Morocco occured until 1991 and an attempted referendum lead by the United Nations Mission for a Referendum in Western Sahara  (MINURSO) failed. Talks and negotiations between different parties have been an ongoing process ever since, without any progress. A couple of weeks ago blood was shed during a clash between Moroccan security forces and what was reputedly preaceful protesters near Laayoune, the capital of Western Sahara. The protesters had gathered at a camp outside the city to protest against the harsh Moroccan rule and were raided by the Moroccan army and police. Some 20.000 Sahrawis had gathered at the camps for over a month, mostly ignored by the press. According to Morocco, 10 out of 12 dead belonged to the security forces. Polisario however, claims that 20 died and around 1000 were wounded in the clash. Spain are now accusing Morocco for war crimes against humanity.

The situation today according to Morocco is as follows:

Although Moroccan Sahara gained independence from Spanish control, a small group known as "Polisario" (supported by the Algerian government and some communist countries throuout the cold war), refused to be governed by Morocco. This led to many Moroccan Saharawi civilians being kidnapped by the Polisario, taken to Tindouf in Algeria and kept as refugees.
Although some have managed to escape and return to Morocco, many are still under the control of  the Polisario and Algerian government.

The UN recognize Polisario as the legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people. The EU, although not recognizing the SADR, supports the right of self-determination of the Sahrawi people, but does not recognize the Polisario front. The African Union (AU) fully recognize the SADR. The Arab League supports Morocco's claims of the region.

Whichever way you look at it (and I'm not going to write down more things that can be googled) it's clear that neither Morocco or Polisario are playing clean - crimes have been committed on both sides. Rabat is currently offering Western Sahara autonomy, but Polisario are still demanding a referendum for complete independence. The region is occupied, there is no better term for it, and it is my opinion that Morocco should recognize this and give the Western Sahara the independence they have sought for so long. It is my wish that the people of Morocco will realize this, have the courage to stand up and put pressure on the government.

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