Statement by Mohamed Sidati, Minister Councelor and Member of the National Secretariat of the Polisario Front
Over a year has passed since we last met in Las Palmas.
Today, the time has come to assess a whole year of activity and evaluate our efforts to see if the programme of action set up by the European coordination has been correctly followed up and applied- not forgetting that we shall only be able to say we have reached our goal the day when the Saharawi people will have conquered its right to self-determination and recovered its freedom.
On this occasion, I pay hommage to all of you who have made this journey and are gathered here to remind us that the mission of the European Coordination of the Committees of Solidarity was carried out satisfactorily and continues to be so.
The activity of the Task Force is a good illustration of this point, as it continued to hold its meetings regularly so as to assess the situation, follow up various actions, and, last but not least, fullfill what was decided at the conference in Spain- a task where at every step, the analysis of the Polisario Front was attentively taken into account. Apart from these meetings and actions such as the demonstration at the European Parliament, various people were regularly kept informed of the various steps taken at a european level, such as international and europeans representatives, as well as the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and his personnel envoy Mr James Baker. They were particularly kept informed of the European Committees' worry about the UN's failure to fullfill its commitments as far as the implementation of the peace plan is concerned. The Task Force and its president Pierre Galand have multiplied their efforts without limits so as to insure that what was decided by all the committees and the NGOs may be implemented.
The fact that this 25th conference, thus a quarter century of solidarity, may be held here in Belgium is also the occasion to pay homage to the friends of the Belgium Solidarity, more particularly Pierre Galand, who founded the EuCoCo. Let us remember that in 1975, it was from Belgium that the first concrete solidarity aid for the Saharawi people was sent thanks to Oxfam and the Belgium committee.
A quarter century of solidarity is also 25 years of uninterrupted struggle fought by the Saharawi people to concretise its legitimate rights to self-determination and independence: therefore, the consistency of this struggle is supported by the consistency of a whole solidarity movement. And on this topic, we will never tell you enough how your solidarity is a matter of comfort for the Saharawi people in the midst of its trials. This is why all of you here are at all times the object of our deepest gratefulness.
Let us now serenely and objectively proceed with the analysis of the peace process and its evolution over the past year.
2 essential aspects stand out very clearly:
First of all, it is now confirmed that the referendum can only be favorable to the Saharawi people: the obviousness of this point is established by the publication of the temporary list of voters.
And secondly, it is at the very time when this fact appears clearly that one can see the emergence of various initiatives, all of them attempting to sideline the peace plan and its measures.
On this topic, we must immediately mention the recurring difficulty which has sought and still seeks to block the implementation of the peace plan, namely, Morocco's demand that thousands of its own settlers and citizens be identified by the MINURSO to participate in the referendum in order to change its outcome.
The publication of the temporary voters list should have put an end to Morocco's obstructionist moves, but this was not to be so: once again, this country is trying to create a deadlock over the implementation of the peace plan and the holding of the referendum by flooding the Identification Commission with thousands of appeals put forth by the Moroccan citizens who were rejected by the same Commission because they did not fullfill the criteria required by the UN. The Commission is now facing the staggering number of 135 thousand appeals, 95% of which have neither legal nor practical justification.
It is clear that this behaviour, which questions the laborious work, often accomplished in difficult conditions by the Identification Commission, treats with utmost contempt the efforts and considerable financial means deployed by the international community in order to perform this exercise. With such a behaviour, Morocco turns a deaf ear to the repeated warnings of the Secretary General and the Security Council in many reports that the appeal procedure should not be turned into a second process of identification.
It is not only in this area that Morocco's blocking tactics appear: the rappatriation of the Saharawi refugees has given rise to the same type of behaviour, namely that every step fowards creates a new stumbling block. For instance, the UN HCR completed the pre-registration of the refugees and their families who will participate in the referendum, in accordance with the settlement plan and the Security Council resolutions. Today there are 107 149 refugees the majority of whom have asked the HCR to be rappatriated for security reasons in the territories of Western Sahara which escape Moroccan occupation.
But a new trend is showing, as far as the stumbling blocks to the peace plan are concerned: for a long time, such attempts were the work of Morocco and of its main ally in the whole affair of the colonial occupation of Western Sahara, France. Yet, we are now witnessing the development of a situation where the same attempts find an indulgent ear at the United Nations, as it appears in the recent reports of its Secretary General:
On this topic, 2 things must be underlined:
First of all, it is regrettable that the Secretary General and the Security Council should not show more determination so as to bring Morocco to respect its commitments and cooperate loyally with the MINURSO.
But what is worse is that all of this creates a warped perception of the efficiency of the MINURSO: for instance, in december 1999, the UN Secretary General made a particularly negative assessment of the implementation of the peace plan in Western Sahara which highlighted the difficulties to which it was confronted, or might be confronted in the future. As a result, the many achievements of the settlement plan were either kept in silence or minimised. The 4 following reports carry on with the same logic. This warped and negative perception of the work of the MINURSO is by and large the product of France's constant pressures, strong of its position as member of the Security Council and Morocco's ally.
Yet there has been very important progress:
At the beginning of the year 2000, the MINURSO completed the identification of some 198 thousand candidates to the referendum of self-determination. Started in 1994, this difficult task is the corner stone of the whole process and it was accomplished with determination by the Identification Commission of the MINURSO. At the end of all these long years of work, on 16 January 2000 the United Nations published a temporary list of 86 349 voters.
In order to understand the crucial and decisive step that this list represents, one must underline the efforts deployed in order to complete this work: since the 1991 cease-fire, 600 million dollars were spent on the MINURSO. Over the same period, one witnessed the efforts of 3 Secretary Generals, 6 special representatives, and a personnal envoy in the person of Mr James Baker. In terms of international texts, there were no less than 30 Security Council resolutions, and 10 from the General Assembly.
To deny these important developments in the implementation of the peace plan is simply the same as going along with Moroccan propaganda. Unfortunately, such a warped perception of the work of the MINURSO prevails in the Secretary General's last report dated 25 october 2000- a report that shows this blatent indulgence towards Moroccan propaganda.
As a matter of fact, this report presents as implicitely compatible various notions which are in fact contradictory, particularly if one takes into account the decolonization process of Western Sahara: for instance, the SG's report deals with the notion of the "sovereignty and territorial integrity of Morocco", and the respect of international norms. This is an intellectual aberration which we must underline here: the respect of international norms implies the respect of the various UN resolutions which have recurrently confirmed the right of the Saharawi people to a referendum of self determination, so that it may pronounce itself on its destiny. One does not quite see how these basic principles might be remotely compatible with the so-called "sovereignty and territorial integrity of Morocco" in the sense that this idea is founded on the fait accompli of the forceful invasion and occupation of the territories of Western Sahara. The UN is not only contradictory but seriously incoherent when it tries to convince others that a political solution directly negociated between the two parties, which would respect the so-called "sovereignty and territorial integrity" of the occupying power that is Morocco, might be compatible with the strict implementation of the peace plan: on the contrary, it is obvious that the accession to independence of the Saharawi people is opposed to the legitimation of the presence of the Moroccan occupation in the territories of Western Sahara.
Unfortunately, this rhetoric exposes the attempts to have the present process deviate by imposing a solution to the conflict in Western Sahara which would leave the framework of the peace plan, since Morocco faces the increasingly stronger possibility of loosing a free and fair referendum. This attempt has a name: it is this famous "3rd option", with which it is clear that Morocco tries to force another solution down the throat of the international community, with the helping hand of France.
Let us be absolutely clear on this point: for the Saharawi people, there is absolutely no acceptable option other than the referendum, the organization of which is the raison d'être of the presence of the MINURSO. It is out of question for the Saharawi people to abdicate its right to the holding of referendum of self-determination, which constitutes the natural expression of an oppressed people to choose its freedom and its dignity.
In front of the lack of political goodwill from Morocco, in front of the underhanded moves of those who support such an attitude, it is important to remember what is the position of the Polisario Front, namely, that any abandonment of the peace plan can only be considered as a breach of the 1991 cease-fire and will put an end to the presence of the MINURSO in Western Sahara.
But for all of us gathered here, the real danger, in the immediate future, is of another nature: the problem is not to know whether the hostilities shall resume or not, but to prevent them. And to prevent them, one must stick to international legality and to what was laboriously accomplished over the past 9 years within the framework of the UN peace plan.
In order to have an idea of what would be the cost of the abandonment of the peace plan, we can just look towards the Middle-East and reflect on the events that have been happening there for the pasts weeks.
And to cut short any useless speculation on the very possibility of holding a referendum of self-determination, we can look, this time, towards Eastern Timor which acceeded a year ago to independence and managed to free itself from the domination of the Indonesian occupation.
Therefore we must all be very careful about the risk of a botched decolonization process and the destructive consequences which might result from such a thing.
In order to do so, it is now important to define and clarifiy the priorities for the coming year.
- first of all, we must absolutely fight and defend the peace plan and oppose any attempt to deviate from this framework, which is called the "3rd option". Only a free, democratic, and transparent referendum of self-determination will warrant peace and stability, and will open the way to a Maghreb region reconciled with itself.
- another topic remains a priority, on which we encourage you to continue your mobilization and your support: the humanitarian situation in the refugee camps. Last year, the humanitarian situation in these camps deteriorated, due to the suspension of the aid coming from ECHO. On this point, I would like to tell some NGOs such as Oxfam (etc.) how deeply we appreciated their efforts to unblock the situation thanks to the coordinated action we undertook with European institutions, particularly ECHO. It is therefore important to continue to work so that the governments and the institutions increase their humanitarian aid in accordance with the increasing needs of the refugee population. As a matter of interest, there is a point which expresses the urgency of this issue: this year, the World Food Programme has at last recognized that the Saharawi refugees in need of humanitarian aid are 150 thousands and not 80 thousands as previously.
If we are saying that the state of things is very serious, it is also to remind our European friends of the urgency of the situation and of the necessity for them to exert cautiousness and decisiveness of action at a political level: the time has now come for you to include in your programme specific actions towards Europe and the European Union, particularly in view of the positive results of your action towards the European Parliament.
One of the ways to mobilize the international opinion would be to have a petition demanding the organization of the referendum of self-determination signed by all MPs throughout the world and have it sent back to the UN Secretary General.
I would also like to remind Spain of its responsabilities as former colonial power and of the necessity for this country to have a political role in accordance with international legality.
- Another source of concern and urgency: Morocco is pursuing its politics of repression in the occupied territories. Unfortunately, the international media talk far less about it under the pretext of giving a chance to the new king. This indulgent attitude only helps keeping the silence over all the arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, tortures, and extra-judicial executions, as well as it contributes to trivialise the whole issue of human rights violations in the occupied territories. It is therefore crucial that all of you should keep an astute and critical look on the issue of repression in the occupied territories. It is not because there is a new king that one should keep quiet.
On the contrary, in this context, there is an urgent need to work so that European delegations may travel to the occupied territories and may see for themselves the situation that prevails.
- A new trend is emerging, which we can only encourage for the coming year: the extension of the European Coordination beyond the frontiers of Europe. This extension allows the Coordination to turn into a true international forum of solidarity with the Saharawi people. The african participation, in particular, is growing stronger, as we can see today with the impressive Algerian delegation led by our sister Mrs Benhabyles, as well as those from other countries like South Africa, Angola, and those coming from the American continent.
- We must underline that the EuCoCo has enourmously contributed to create a better awareness in Europe- we will particularly remember the demonstration in Strasburg after the adoption, by the European Parliament, of a resolution on the conflict in Western Sahara. Still in Europe, there were many more actions of solidarity at the level of countries such as Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, and France.