UN is attempting once again to kick life into the negotiations on the much-debated desert region. For four decades the inhabitants have been waiting in vain to decide the future of their occupied homeland. Aftenposten, 4 Feb 2012.
The UN’s special delegate for Western Sahara, the American Christopher Ross, has initiated an international tour to mobilize support for the further negotiations on Western Sahara. He had conversations last week both in Washington and Moscow.
At the same time one of the Polisario’s top leaders is visiting Norway. Emhammad Khadad is in charge of the liberation movement’s UN negotiations, and the purpose of the tour in Europe is to inform about the latest events in the region. The Polisario movement continues struggling for an independent Western Sahara.
«Status quo» After having expressed their lack of confidence in the UN peace envoy, Morocco pulled out of the negotiations in May last year. Secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon is now urging the parties to resume the negotiations, says Khadad.
The Polisario leaders hopes the international society does not forget the conflict and does not accept “status quo”.
Morocco invaded Western Sahara in 1975 when the colonial power withdrew. After 16 years of war the UN arranged for a ceasefire in 1991 in which year the UN also started its a peacekeeping mission in the region, MINURSO (Mission des Nations Unies pour l'organisation d'un référendum au Sahara occidental).
Since then many resolutions have been adopted by the General Assembly of the UN and by the Security Council, but half of the population is still living under occupation in Western Sahara. The other half, around 160.000 Sahrawis, lives in refugee camps in Western Algeria.
Suffers the Sahel crisis The Polisario diplomat himself lives in one of the refugee camps in Tindouf in Algeria. Khadad is very concerned about the refugees’ situation and thinks that the crisis in the Sahel region and the advance of the Islamists in the neighboring Mali creates an emergency.
"We suffer as victims of terrorism which affects us in many ways. An example is that aid workers are advised not to go to the areas where the refugee camps are located. Unfortunately this will lead to less political attention to our cause and the aid could be reduced", says Khadad.
He told that the refugees from Western Sahara are also affected by the international economic crisis which has led to sharp cuts in the Western aid budgets.
The UN and the International Court of Justice in the Hague have ruled that the Sahrawis have a right to self-determination within their area of 266.000 square kilometres. A referendum is rejected by Morocco which instead offers limited autonomy for the original Berber population.
Norway can contribute For several years the Norwegian government has urged Norwegian companies from investing in Western Sahara and considers also the territory between Morocco, Mauritania and Algerie annexed by Morocco. Nevertheless, Norway does still not recognize Western Sahara as an independent state.
Referring to the fact that the EU is attempting to conclude a fisheries agreement with Morocco which affects the waters off Western Sahara and is against international law, Khadad believes that Norway can contribute positively to a solution of the conflict.
"Norway should raise its voice against the signing of trade agreements that include natural resources of Western Sahara", said Khadad.
This desert country is rich in fish and phosphate resources and may have oil resources off the coastline.
"Extracting natural resources from occupied countries has been declared illegal by the UN. Norway should encourage adherence to international law and maintenance of a moral and ethical standard in the relations between states", says Khadad.
Was a Spanish colony until 1975 when Morocco and Mauritania shared the region between them according to an agreement with Spain.
Today most sahrawis live in refugee camps in Algeria where the Polisario has its headquarters. At the same time Morocco has allowed Moroccan settlers to establish themselves in Western Sahara, and these are believed now to constitute a majority of the population in the area.
Morocco has built a 2000 kilometre long wall around the central areas, and controls all economic activity in the country, which is rich in natural resources.
Western Sahara is a member of the African Union (AU) and has repeatedly received support in the UN for its claim for independence.
The UNITED NATIONS brokered a ceasefire in 1991, when the parties agreed to conduct a referendum on the region's future status. The ceasefire is still in force, but the referendum has never been implemented
Since 1975, three quarters of the territory of Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco. A majority of the population is still living in refugee camps in Algeria. Those who remained in their homeland are subjected to serious harassment from the Moroccan occupiers. For more than 40 years the Sahrawis have been waiting for the fullfilment of their legitimate right to self-determination.
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