THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE WILL APPEAR IN THE REVIEW OF AFRICAN POLITICAL ECONOMY (ROAPE Publications Ltd.) in issue no. 88/June. Please note that the issue was delayed going to press and will instead be published in early August. ROAPE Publications holds the copyright. Thanks for giving the authorisation of this anticipate publishing
From 17-27 April 2001, the author visited the Sahrawi refugee camps and the northern sector of the Western Sahara territory under Polisario control (the region surrounding the town of Bir Lahlou and Tifariti). The author previously visited the Sahrawi refugee camps in 1997, and is planning a visit to the area under Moroccan control in the autumn of 2001.
The Sahrawi refugee camps are located in the southwest of Saharan Algeria, near the Algerian town of Tindouf, which also serves as the southern headquarters for the Algerian Armed Forces, with a notable army and air force presence. The camps of Smara, Awserd and Laayoune are clustered around the administrative center of Rabouni, with the Dakhla camp located approximately 60 miles from this center. The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic/Frente Polisario - the political and military organization that represents the refugees - was granted administrative and governing autonomy over this area by the Algerian government. The population of each camp was estimated in 1997 to be between 45,000-65,000, for a total camp population of 167,000. However, over the past several years, the population has crossed the 200,000 mark, with the author observing a graphic expansion in the size of the camps.
The territory of the Western Sahara is politically and geographically divided by a 2200km sand-wall (also known as the berm or as the rabotu by the Polisario), constructed by the Moroccan government in the mid-1980s. The wall crosses into northwest Mauritania physically separating the eastern portions of the territory under Polisario control. The Sahrawi population in this area are either combatants cantoned with their units as part of the UN sponsored cease-fire or Sahrawi bedwyns, who use the area as grazing land for camels and goats. The western portion of the territory is under the 'administering authority' of the Moroccan government, with a population of 200,000 soldiers of the Forces Armes Royales (FAR), approximately 200,000 Moroccan settlers from the post-1975 period, and above 65,000 indigenous Sahrawi (1997 figures).
In 1975, the stage was set for the decolonization of the Spanish Sahara: the Spanish authorities had undertaken a census of the population in 1974 in preparation for a future referendum, and the United Nations had sent a high-level delegation to assess the political intentions of the population and the surrounding governments. Legally, the right of the Sahrawi population to self-determination is upheld by the international legal norm of uti possidetis (the use of colonial boundaries as the basis for the right of self-determination of peoples within territories), the ruling of the International Court of Justice in the 1975 Western Sahara case, and the application of this law throughout Africa and Asia, and most specifically, in East Timor and Namibia. Shortly thereafter, in November 1975, King Hassan of Morocco led a 'Green March' of 275,000 Moroccan citizens into the territory, followed by the FAR. In return for resource rights, the Spanish government formalized the division of the territory between Mauritania (bottom third) and Morocco (top two-thirds). With a significant majority of the Sahrawi population fleeing the western urban centers, a formerly small-scale insurgency developed into a full-scale political, military and diplomatic movement. Until the construction of the wall in the 1980s, the Polisario forces met with considerable success, with Mauritania eventually withdrawing from the conflict in 1982 following the collapse of the Ould Daddah regime. The majority of the Polisario armaments were initially drawn from captured Moroccan weapons, with the primary tactical tool a land rover with a mounted heavy machine gun. However, Algeria and Libya eventually supplied a variety of vintage Soviet era weaponry (BMP1-2, BRDM, ZSU-23/24, SAM-6/7). Morocco received financial and military assistance from the United States (F-5, M1A1, artillery, and a recent UAV supply (the Skyeye)), France, Great Britain, Israel, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia.
In 1991, the Organization for African Unity sponsored a peace plan, which eventually led to the deployment of the UN Mission for a Referendum in the Western Sahara (MINURSO), the imposition of a cease-fire (which politically formalized the berm as the dividing line between the parties), and the beginning of the identification of eligible voters based upon those listed on the 1974 census. Approximately ten years later, after a fit of starts and stops, and an attempt by the Government of Morocco to add approximately 250,000 names to the voter list, the first round of identification was completed and released in February 2000, with 80,000 voters identified. The peace process, or lack thereof, is currently characterized by three trends:
The issue of the Western Sahara should not be discussed without an examination of Moroccan internal politics, whether in terms of determining the reason for Morocco's attempted integration of the territory or in terms of the domestic affects of a return to war. Rather than adopting the popular understanding of the conflict as a 'resource' war (due to the phosphate, fishery, and projected oil stocks in the territory), Morocco's 1975 invasion of the Western Sahara should be understood as an attempt by King Hassan to solidify his regime after a series of military coups in the early 1970's and rising democratic unrest. With the death of Hassan and Sidi Mohammed's assumption to the throne, there was international expectation of an eased conflict resolution process, and internal Moroccan expectations of greater economic prosperity and democratic reform. However, the kingdom remains economically dysfunctional - due to chronic unemployment and a reliance on a drought-vulnerable agricultural sector - and politically constrained, with a series of governmental retreats in the human rights arena and the government facing increasing demands from Islamic fundamentalists, Berber separatists, and women's and students' groups. The resumption of protracted warfare in the Sahara could further produce a fracture within Moroccan society, and the potential forced upheaval of the Alawite monarchy should not be discounted.
The purpose of the author's visit to the Sahrawi refugee camps and eastern portion of the territory were three-fold:
Assessment of Potential for a Return to War
The Polisario's threat of a return to war, and the prospect that they would commence hostilities as a result of the Paris-Dakar rally in late January were real, according to both the statements of Polisario soldiers (and the Region 2 Commander) and the supporting account of an US Air Force Colonel stationed with MINURSO in the region. During this time, the level of military activity in the area was rumored to have noticeably increased by MINURSO representatives, with a unit commander indicating that military units had been deployed to the berm and of the mass mobilization of men from the front and abroad (Mauritania, Algeria, and Spain). A further testament of the proximity of war was apparent with the removal of equipment from the hospital in Tifariti in anticipation of Moroccan bombardment.
Among the population, the views on a return to war were less driven by passion, then by a subtle rational calculation and desire. Other observers on the trip predicted a return to war within the next two to six months, with the Polisario both calculating the timing based on the SG's pursuit of an autonomy option and the further acclimatization of the Bush White House and its foreign policy apparatus.
To indicate that the Sahrawi population and the Polisario forces have lost faith in the United Nations system would be an understatement. Statements to this affect include:
To paraphrase a US Military Observer on mission with MINURSO:
The situation needs to be resolved more sooner than later. More effort needs to be put into political solutions. The situation will devolve into conflict if there is no resolution soon. It has been too long [to wait for the Polisario] without something happening. Baker needs a solution acceptable to both sides.
The Polisario's Military Capabilities
The precise size of the Polisario forces (in terms of both soldiers and equipment) is largely unknown by outsiders. The cantonment of Polisario forces under the MINURSO cease-fire provides a picture of the organization and size of their forces, applicable solely to the post-conflict situation and likely non-representative of their overall capabilities. The Polisario controlled eastern sections of the Western Sahara Territory is divided into six military regions. Each military region is composed of five to six battalions, each of which is comprised of approximately four to five military units. Generally, each military region also has a support battalion containing a number of smaller specialized units providing a range of services, including signals and communication, combat and tactical analysis, medical, water location and drilling, and vehicle and weaponry repair.
The Military Balance generally estimates the Polisario as having between 3-6000 soldiers - a figure that I would argue grossly underestimates their total manpower. As further indicated by an American officer with MINURSO, the Polisario's precise military capabilities are not fully reflected by the units available for inspection at the berm. In general, the movement could likely mobilize a substantial portion of its above-16 male population within 24 hours in order to resume combat. The approximate size of the Polisario is thus an order of magnitude greater than IISS's estimate - which in itself is more indicative of the current total at the front under UN cantonment. During the cease-fire, at any given time, a third of the Polisario soldiers are on permission, which allows them to leave their posts at the front in order to return to their families in the camps.
During this field mission, the author visited the military units of the 1st Battalion of the Tifariti Region. The first unit was composed of approximately 10 BMP-1s, with a number of land rovers with mounted heavy machine guns. A third of this unit was on post at the berm, a third was stationed in the cantonment area, and a third was undergoing additional training in the proximity of Tindouf. The second unit was composed of 3 BM-21 Katyoshka rocket systems and approximately four howitzer 122mm artillery pieces in the vicinity of the main camp. Although the Polisario's Surface to Air Missiles were reportedly stationed in Algeria, the third and fourth unit were composed of ZSU-23, ZDU, BRDM's (w/ SAM-7s), and truck mounted anti-aircraft weapons, for use against either aircraft/helicopters or against ground units. The ZSU's are generally used to provide cover for the SAM forces and against low-altitude targets.
A predominant focus on the Polisario's size and military resources neglects the movement's primary military strengths. According to various soldiers at the front, the Polisario forces have been able to counter a vastly superior Moroccan force - both numerically and technologically - and sustain combat for 15 years due to:
In terms of the latter, one random sample of soldiers indicated a mix of veterans (7-8 years of experience) and relatively recent inductees (1-3 years).
Morocco's acquisition of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and additional weapons since the initiation of the cease-fire (M1A1 and optically guided weapons, HOT, etc), as reported in the Military Balance, was also raised with various elements of the Polisario's forces. In general, the soldiers were dismissive of the potential impact of any one technology on the conflict.
The author's knowledge of the berm is largely confined to observation from a .5 km post in the Polisario territory, and from discussion with Polisario soldiers formerly involved in raids on Moroccan forces. Physically, the berm is a two meter high wall (with a backing trench), which rides along a topographical high point/ridge/hill throughout the territory. Spaced out over every five kilometers are a big, small and medium base, with approximately 35-40 troops at each observation post and groups of 10 soldiers spaced out over the distance as well. About four km behind each major post there is a rapid reaction post, which includes backing mobile forces (tanks, etc). A series of overlapping fixed and mobile radars are also positioned throughout the berm. The radars are estimated to have a range of between 60 and 80 km into the Polisario controlled territory, and are generally utilized to locate artillery fire onto detected Polisario forces. Information from the radar is processed by a forward-based commander, who contacts a rear-based artillery unit. The Skyeye recently acquired by Moroccan forces, and the anticipated Israeli Hunter craft, will play a similar role in the detection of targets for artillery fire. These same sources provided a degree of insight into the tactics utilized by the Polisario to counter the berm, which are generally reflected by the principles of surprise and speed.
Status of MINURSO Units
Each MINURSO site headquarters contains between 4-8 observers, representing Russia, China, France, USA, Malaysia, and Kenya. American officers are present in Tifariti, Bir Lahlou and Tindouf, with the contingent commander (Lt. Col.) stationed in Laayoune. Notably, with the arrival of a French Sector North Commander, French officers have assumed or are to assume control of the team sites in Mehaires, Tifariti, and Bir Lahlou over the next week. One Polisario commander called this development a 'curiosity,' while also intimating on the close Moroccan-French relationship and the possibility for intelligence-sharing.
In anticipation of the resumption of hostilities, all MINURSO units were prevented from leaving their sites, and thus restricted from fulfilling their daily patrol tasks, unit visits, and cease-fire monitoring activities. Since that period, the restrictions on the movement of UN personnel has varied by region, with those in the Tifariti site able to resume all activities aside from unit visits, and those in Bir Lahlou prevented from visiting either unit or battalion sites and headquarters. Prior to this point, regional Polisario representatives hinted that MINURSO had not played a neutral role in monitoring the cease-fire, by installing more camps in the Polisario sector than in the Moroccan one (despite a significantly smaller force size), by failing to patrol Moroccan forces stationed behind the berm, and by attempting to excessively control the Polisario forces.
Assessment of Developments Within the Camps
A number of developments within the camps since 1997 serve as a reflection of the Polisario movement and the population, and have indirect implications for the possibility of a return to war.
Most importantly, I witnessed the further development and expansion of trading routes through the Polisario camps, from Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, Algeria and Spain. In 1997, these trade routes were reflected by the emergence of small neighborhood shops. Currently, not only have the number of these shops expanded, but within Smara, there are two distinct commercial areas. The shops not only include clothing, personal hygiene, and other basic items, but also fresh meat and produce for an individual family to supplement the base diet provided by humanitarian assistance. Television ownership is typical both at the front and within an extended family in the camps, with power supplied by solar-powered car batteries. Practically, this has led to the further development of the Sahrawi political consciousness, with comparisons of their situations to those of the Palestinians, Kosovars and Timorese.
The source of the starting capital for these goods include pensions for former Spanish civil servants (approx. $1,500 every three months), and remittances from Sahrawis working abroad (Algeria, Mauritania, the Canary Islands, Spain). As work in the military or political administration is typically unpaid, a family will seek to diversify its income, with family members separately engaged in commerce, military service, and education abroad. The private ownership of cars/trucks has graphically expanded (typically imported from Spain), as have the camel and goat stock of the population. A number of associated support services have also emerged including auto-mechanics and auto-part stores.
To a certain extent, the current indeterminate and fragile peace has permitted the 'normalization' of life within the camps. Individual access to commerce and income-generating activities has provided methods of both countering aid dependency and supplementing the limited dietary regimen of humanitarian assistance. To a certain extent, these trends reflect a modern interpretation of the Sahrawi's traditional role in North and West Africa, in terms of both their cultivation of camel/goat stocks and their role as the trade intermediaries for the region. In the case of return, such trade relationships would be transported into the Western Sahara territory. In contrast, Morocco's economy, and with it that of the area of the Western Sahara under their control, is oriented towards Europe and is less linked to that of the surrounding region. During a trip to the Moroccan controlled zone, it would be interesting to explore whether the Sahrawi population are able to provide a similar role in linking trade and the movement of goods.
The continued emergence of commercial ties may have a number of contending implications for the ability of the Polisario to return to war. First, for those benefiting economically from the current commercial activity, there could be a reduced desire or direct reluctance for a return to war, given the inferred economic disruption. Through several interviews with shop-owners and others involved in commerce, there was apparently little evidence to support this observation. Second, if these ties were able to be maintained during the conflict, the income of the Polisario could be expanded. Further, the potency of a use of a reduction in humanitarian assistance as a tool of coercion by the international community could be reduced. The latter could relate to the forced acceptance of autonomy within Morocco, the cessation of hostilities, or to aspects of the repatriation program.
The Sahrawi have developed a notable administrative structure, which include the election of neighborhood (daria/barrio), camp (wilaya), and national level officials. Schools (K-6) and hospitals are located within each district or camp, with a national level high school, women's school, and hospital. During this visit, the author witnessed the continued functioning and further extension of the Polisario's administrative authority, which included the establishment of a border post at the Algerian 'frontier' near the Western Sahara territory (where incoming goods are subject to a 'symbolic' duty).
In anticipation of the demands of the formal government of the Western Sahara territory, the Polisario have developed a 'white paper' indicating the structure, functions, and principles of the government, and have also developed an apprenticeship program for individuals expected to fill key roles in the public and private sector (banking, customs, port management, etc.). This development has direct implications for the mandate of a UN mission in post-referendum Western Sahara. Whereas in Kosovo and East Timor, the UN was involved in the Transitional Administration of territories due to the political and administrative vacuum caused by Indonesian and Serbian withdrawal and the level of destruction, in the Western Sahara, the SADR/Polisario will be prepared to transfer their administrative structure from the camps to the territory. This is, of course, dependent upon both the implementation of the referendum - delayed for ten years and increasingly less likely - and a vote for independence, which is anticipated if the current voters list is used and a 'free and fair' environment for the vote is created and maintained.
Assessment of the Repatriation Operations & Potential for a 'Timor' Scenario
Whether to vote in the referendum, or return to an independent state or autonomous region of Morocco, the repatriation of the Sahrawi refugees will be a key aspect of a final solution to the conflict. Under the Settlement Plan, it was assumed, by both the United Nations Secretariat, UNHCR, and the Moroccan authorities, that the majority of the Sahrawi refugees would return to the western portion of the territory under Moroccan control, as this was there place of origin. Such a decision would raise the possibility of a 'Timor' scenario, whereby a symbolic, political and unarmed UN presence would implement a referendum, in an environment under the control of the security forces of one of the parties (Morocco). The possibility of the incomplete demobilization, disarmament and cantonment of both forces, accompanied by a likely vote for independence (as is predicted due to both the current size of the voters' list - 80,000 and not several times greater - and confidential disclosures from former UN staff) indicates the potential for both pre- and post- election violence. When confronted with the potential for post-election violence, certain Polisario contingents indicated that they would break from their cantonment and engage the Moroccan forces (unlike Falintil's activities in East Timor), as the Polisario could not expect third-party intervention as occurred in East Timor with Australia.
In general, both the refugees and the Polisario soldiers indicate an awareness of this potential instability. The 1997 returnee registration program commissioned by UNHCR indicated that approximately 90% of the camp population intended to return west of the berm, to the Polisario-controlled territory and not to the Moroccan zone. Further, the Polisario have constructed a sizeable infrastructure base in Tifariti and Bir Lahlou in anticipation of the use of these sites for repatriating refugees, including wells, two hospitals, and a school.
Interview with Brahim Bedileh, Commander, 2nd Military Region (Tifariti), POLISARIO Front
25 April 2001
The following transcript was conducted through an interpreter, and therefore is an approximation and not fully representative of Commander Bedileh's statements:
We are currently in a stand-by position, still waiting. Nobody wants to lose time in waiting to resolve our problem of liberation. 26 years of fighting for our existing rights of self-determination, our case is one of legal consensus that we see all over the world.
All of these years, we have always avoided the temptation to fall (or to be closer) to closed systems, whether in terms of communism or Islam. Our main ideology is to make our country free, and to achieve our self-determination. Our strength and power comes from our people. This is not a cause for a simple group of persons. We are working now as a unified party to get our objectives. The final decision is always in the hands of the masses, no one can decide for the masses.
All of these years, we have avoided all kinds of activities that do not comply with international law. Our soldiers are free, it would be easy to go inside the Moroccan territory, to infiltrate, and to bomb hotels or civilians, or to mine roads or the airport. We know that their main source of income is tourism. But we wait for a legal solution because we are a pacific and responsible government. We always respect the rules dictated by the UN and international organizations. We never opted for the ways of terrorism or something like that, in spite of quite a lot of provocations by the enemy. We have been bombed by napalm, including the city centers of the Sahrawis. And yet, we always have been fighting in legal terms. But we have patience, and until the time we have to return to war, we will be patient.
Above all, we know that international opinion is not very serious, and that we have a better history. But a hard history, full of betrayals and deception. There are three deceptions. The first deception was in 1975. The 1st Commission of the UN visisted everyone and they decided to organize a referendum in six months. But at that time, what occurred? The Tripartite Deal (the Madrid Accords), which divided the territory. Then, they invaded and bombed the territory in 1975 and 1976. The UN had decided at that time to make a referendum, but in spite of that, the enemies had divided our country and invaded. Before this, in October and September of that year, Juan Carlos of Spain had visited the Sahara and made a speech full of promises: that Spain will defend the Sahrawi people. But after the speech, Spain abandoned our country. Then, we had to begin our struggle to make the international community remember that there exists a people, who is fighting for their right to self-determination.
Second: For the past ten years, we have been waiting again for the UN to do what it is supposed to do and what they have promised to our people.
For ten years, we have lived with the legacy of the bombs and the mines furnished to Morocco by the U.S. These are Lancaster bombs each with 780 bomblets. Before the Palestinians were bombed in Lebanon, we were bombed here. Despite the danger, the Sahrawis continued their determination. This did not kill their determination, the tanks, the mortars, the satellites with photo capabilities, the weapons supplied by the U.S., France, Italy, Belgium, the UK, Israel, Germany, Austria, Libya, Iran, South Africa, Brazil, Egypt, Romania, Slovakia. All of these countries were in coalition with Morocco. We were Iraq, but they could not defeat our soldiers.
We were happy when Baker was selected as the intermediary in this conflict, in spite of previous U.S. support for Morocco. We forgot the past. Our people have a lot of tolerance. We forgot the problems of the past. We began to be very optimistic especially when we thought about what Baker had done in Kuwait, our people made comparisons. But Baker has taken four years. He has to insist on the deal made under the Houston Agreements.
But there is the third solution. Who is behind this? Baker, Annan, Morocco, or France? Who is responsible? We are not worried about who is behind this. In 1974, the Spaniards offered for the Sahrawi people to become a province of Spain, but with wide autonomy and different from all other regions, like Catalonia. The problem is not autonomy. The key question is that the Sahrawi people must determine their destiny by vote, by self-determination.
Now, to go back 27 years is unacceptable. To accept from Morocco, what Spain originally offered, is unacceptable. There are no similarities between Spain and Morocco; not in democracy, not in economy, not in respect for human rights, not in civilization, not in opportunities to be offered to the Sahrawi people. That is wrong. It is a big error and a big mistake. There is a phrase in Spanish: we pull down our pants to the third option.
Our struggle is not to be a government, or to have three to five factories, or to have money, a monthly tax, these are secondary issues. The first thing is to make our people free, to have our people fulfill their right to self-determination.
In this time, we are standing-by but we have begun to lose our patience. I have no words to convince these soldiers for this kind of waiting, the soldiers insist daily to do something. They will solve the problem peacefully or we will go to the front, and one day they can get out of control, and attack behind the berm into Morocco.
As a military region, we have two main tasks. The first is military: to train, prepare, repair, acquire new knowledge, study the enemy's tactics, develop methods of countering their technology (radar), pay attention for airplanes, and disarm and remove mines. Second, we have a lot of Bedwyns in the area. We serve them. We have to take care of them, to pick up mines, and unexploded ordinance. And we have to support them in their search for water, and to help them in terms of health. The task of detonating bombs that have been left by the enemy occurs with the cooperation of the UN. They help us to mark the positions of the mines and we have to explode them.
In this region, we have a MINURSO center. There is a curiosity. Previously, this sector was always under the command of a member of the US Army. For two years now it has been controlled by the French, who are the friends of the Moroccans.
Personally, MINURSO has old ideas. For example, they divide this sector into three areas. The Chief of the South Sector is a Chinese. The North Sector is controlled by the French. The Russians command Tindouf. These are the big sectors, and each sector has subsectors (Agwanit, Mehaires, Mijek). Typically, the team-site commander is the officer who has spent the longest period of time in the site. For example, if there are 12 officers, 2 US, 2 French, Egyptian, Malaysian, Chinese, Italy, Kenya and Ghana. The one that spent the longest in the site becomes the commander. Whoever spends the longest time is in command. But there have been movements to make the French officer the ones with the longest site experience. Now this center is commanded by a Russian but in one month it will be French. There is a case of an officer from Argentina, who had been here for one year, but when it was time for him to assume command, he was moved to Laayoune.
We have always had good relations with MINURSO, and we respect their work here. They were very free before last December. We discovered that when we gave them a lot of freedom, they tried to control us. On the Moroccan side, they cannot move without permission. The Moroccan bases on the northern borders are not controlled by the MINURSO forces. The Moroccan forces have brought arms there. Occasionally, MINURSO conducts a patrol along the berm, but they cannot go behind the berm. They control only those Moroccan forces that are positioned on the berm, but they do not go 20 kms behind the berm where there are no patrols.
Q: What is the potential for the resumption of war?
Always we have made a difference between the cease-fire and peace. There is a big difference. The cease-fire is not a definitive thing, whereas, peace is a definitive thing. As we are military, we are always prepared for the possibility of war.
We have not increased our soldiers, nor have we bought new material. The main weapon we have is our determination and willingness.
First, all the Sahrawis are fighting for their legitimate and unified cause. We are volunteers, all Sahrawis are volunteers. We are not here for a professional purpose, but for the fight for liberation. Second, we are fighting in a territory that we know very well. Third, we are fighting in our own climate. Fourth, we have the initiative and the choice as to when, where, and how to attack, because of the berm. Fifth, we have much experience, whereas, for Morocco, the situation is the opposite.
Moroccan troops are controlled, not volunteers, forced to do things, and fight in a foreign country. They cannot move without maps or without the GPS apparatus. They are in a different climate that is very hard on them. And they are always standing-by for attack. Always nervous. They do not know how, when, or where we can attack them. And then, the soldiers are very conscious that they are fighting for a thing that is not for them. The level of force and support that they had in the time of Hassan II is not available to them anymore. They cannot get it. From my experience, he was a real king, with old international support, with experienced officers and with a staff that worked with him. Even with the experience they had, and with the sophisticated materials, they could not defeat our forces. Mohammed VI cannot achieve one percent of what his father has done. Therefore, the best thing for all Moroccans and Sahrawis is a democratic referendum, which is transparent and legal.
Over the last decades, during the 1970's and 1980's, the American Congress voted to support Morocco with developed and significant military material. Today, it is not the same. The Congress are supporting or are asking to apply the referendum and peace process demanded by the UN.
France still has its old colonial culture, and they ignore the rights of the Sahrawi in this region, in spite of the fact that they had had previous experience with the Sahrawi people. They struggled with the Sahrawi people. We have a variety of martyrs and warriors, who fought against France in 1912. Today, there are no foreign people here, except the tombs of our old martyrs against foreign invaders. Our struggle for freedom is not recent, but for a century or more.
Q: The Timor Scenario?
The worst thing the Moroccans could do was when they invaded the Sahara, but this never made it legal for them to be on the Sahrawi's territory. And the problem is one of legality. I think the UN has learned from its experience in East Timor. Under the Houston Agreements, the UN assumed the responsibility of protecting the results of the vote. They may abandon this responsibility. What's happened with what Sharon is doing now in the Palestinian Occupied Territories? The experience they get from East Timor. Indonesia destroyed everything, but at least the Timorese people received their independence.
Our territory is different. There is no great power interest in this territory. The Spanish people are not in complete solidarity with our people like the Portuguese were in East Timor. And we cannot compare Algeria to Australia. The only thing behind the Sahrawi people is their rights. Algeria supports us to certain limits, but they cannot intervene in our particular issues and they can never be in our position.
Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments
Other publications from the same author:
United Nations Efforts to Resolve the Western Sahara Conflict Appear Bleak, Natalie Reid, Salim Fakirani, and Michael Bhatia, Human Rights Tribune, September 2000, Vol. 7, No. 2&3
Statement regarding the issue of the Western Sahara before the Fourth Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, 9 October 1998.