March 14, 1997:
Remarks of Douglas K. Dryden* on the occasion of the visit of President Mohammed Abdelaziz of the Saharan Republic to Capitol Hill

* Commander,former member of the US military contingent to the Special Liaison Office of MINURSO, Western Sahara

Mr. President, and distinguished guests:

I am delighted to be here and be re-united, although in a different capacity, with a man I respect very much, who leads a people who deserve so much, yet have received so little.

As you heard, I spent months with unhindered access to the Saharawi refugee camps in Algeria and was the first military observer to travel throughout the entire POLISARIO area of operations. This and my background allows me to have various observations and conclusions, some of which I was unable to voice until recently. Let me address some of those by dismissing some of the accusations made against the POLISARIO:

First, "the POLISARIO is a communist movement." There are very few members of the American military who have better credentials than I as an anti-Communist, and the POLISARIO is not communist. Have they cooperated with communist and radical regimes during their war? Yes, just as we did during World War II. In speaking with ministers of the POLISARIO government, they defy anyone to find any evidence in the now-opened KGB files of collusion with the Soviets or any other communist movement. Do not confuse the necessities of organizing a population in refugee camps in the Sahara with communism or even socialism.

Second, "the POLISARIO is a terrorist organization." It's been said that one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter, but there is a clear difference. Other groups have tried to encourage the POLISARIO to use terrorist tactics, but the POLISARIO has refused -- terrorism is a criminal act, and inconsistent with the aims of the POLISARIO as a legitimate government.

Third, "the POLISARIO is a radical Islamic movement." This is strange, considering that true radical Islamists condemn the POLISARIO for being too secular. The advances made by the POLISARIO in a number of social areas, particularly women's rights, are impressive. While they may be devout, as well they should be, I have seen no evidence of a desire to return to the old cultural restrictions of the region, much less impose a radical agenda such as in Iran or recently in Afghanistan.

Fourth, "if hostilities occur again, the Moroccan army would be the clear victor because of their size and technological advantage." That technological advantage exists to some extent because of American weapons that have been shipped to Morocco. The American agreement on their use includes proscriptions against offensive or internal use. The US government has never recognized the incorporation of the Western Sahara into Morocco, but one wonders how closely the US investigates the use and distribution of these systems, as we investigate Turkey, for example. But even with these advantages, they did not result in a Moroccan victory in the sixteen years of fighting that led to the cease-fire, and it does not necessarily follow that they would now. The POLISARIO, I am convinced after close examination, has a clear capability, if planned and executed correctly, to seriously effect a military decision. Continued frustration with the United Nations and the blatant Moroccan attempts to stall and threaten the process should not be taken lightly.

Fifth, an independent Saharan Republic would be "just one more poor country, unable to compete and best support its population." Similar comments were made about the United States during our revolution. There is every reason to feel that the natural resources of the area could sustain the economy and population of the native Saharawis, but the vast phosphate deposits and fishing areas are being exploited by the Moroccans while the process continues to stall -- time, after all, is on the side of the Moroccans. The idea of self-determination, highly vaunted by the United Nations and called for by the International Court of Justice on the eve of the Moroccan invasion, is meaningless if the lack of a clear and fair referendum on the Western Sahara continues.

This is a problem similar in many respects to that of East Timor. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to champions of that struggle for independence from Indonesian forces, who invaded at about the same time that Morocco invaded the Western Sahara. It is my hope that this administration, embroiled as it is with human rights concerns with China, and who, at least during its first campaign, championed the cause of East Timor, would champion this cause for the same reasons.

The continued occupation of the Western Sahara flies in the face of those who lament about justice in the world. For two years I sought to find from the Moroccans, in a completely impartial manner, what reasonable justification they had for its occupation. I received no answers, and I can find none. Moroccan pronouncements to the world speak of cooperation with the UN and a seeking of a peaceful solution, but internally they say only that the Western Sahara will always be Moroccan. They say that the POLISARIO refuses to seek a joint solution, but after the usual chants about the compassion of the king, they only dictate terms.

As opposed to the intransigence and belligerent attitude on the part of Morocco, I received only openness and cooperation from President Abdelaziz and all of the POLISARIO with whom I came in contact. I was free to converse with anyone I wished, and free to travel where I wished. They have nothing to hide, and theirs is a story that needs to be heard.

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