During the meeting in Strasbourg of the European Parliamentary intergroup "Peace for the Saharawi People", several MEPs spoke displaying their concern in the face of a worsening situation. Mr Mohamed Sidati, Minister Counsellor and member of the National Secretariat of the Polisario Front, brought the meeting up to date with the current situation. He emphasised that the region risks being confronted with a return to hostilities, SADR considering itself in a state of war since January. He reaffirmed the willingness of the Polisario Front to work towards a solution in keeping with international law.
Recently questions had been put to the European Commission and to the Presidency drawing attention to the gravity of the situation. In his response Commissioner Romano Prodi stated that the EU supports the UN Secretary General's initiatives, that the Union is favourable to direct talks between the parties concerned, "with the conviction that only open dialogue can help to find a way out of the present impasse", and that it will continue to defend a just and peaceful solution to the question of Western Sahara.
Khalihana Ould Rachid (a pro-Moroccan Saharawi notable, ex-minister of Saharan affairs, at present president of the Municipal Council of El Ayoun) organised meetings, in the course of last week, in El Ayoun, Smara, Dakhla and Boujdour, in which he made violent criticisms of the Moroccan authorities. He denounced the fact that settlers from the north are taking advantage of the wealth of the country to the detriment of the local population. He strongly criticised the Moroccan authorities and administration, reproaching them for their policy of discrimination against Saharawis in the occupied zones (nominations of political officials, all originating from Morocco, priority for Moroccans in jobs). He pointed out that those responsible for repression in El Ayoun in September 1999 have been honoured instead of being brought to justice (mentioning in particular the pacha Mohamed El Guerrouani, appointed general secretary to the governor of Khenifra, and caïd Laâzouzi, "super-mayor" of Agadir).
According to certain observers, the provocative speech of Khalihana has to be seen in relation to the project of autonomy for the Sahara.
Margot Kessler, chair of the European Parliamentary intergroup "Peace for the Saharawi People", sent a petition to the United Nations Secretary General, to his personal Envoy, Mr James Baker, to the presidency of the EU, the OUA and the Movement of non-aligned countries. The petition asks for the strict implementation of the peace plan and the organisation of a referendum on Saharawi self-determination. Several hundred members of the European Parliament and national MPs from various European countries signed this appeal.
UN Secretary General's report S/2001/148 of 20.02.01
Despite the lack of progress noted in the implementation of the UN plan for Western Sahara, the SG, Kofi Annan, proposes the extension of MINURSO's mandate for two months, until 30 April.
His personal envoy, James Baker, taken up with the American elections, has not been in a position to pursue his moves with Morocco to determine whether it is ready to propose or accept a political solution or "third way", as had been demanded of it. He will now be able to become involved for a last time, he made clear.
The SG goes into detail on the serious crisis created by the route of the Paris-Dakar rally which «contributed to a marked increase in tensions between the parties, the repercussions of which are still being felt». The only positive event in the past four months: the liberation of 201 prisoners of war by the Polisario Front. Meanwhile the Identification Commission has refined its analysis of the appeals submitted. The UNHCR is engaged in preparation for the repatriation of the refugees. From 9-11 February 2001, the World Food Program (WFP) and representatives of the international donor community have paid a visit to the refugee camps at Tindouf, to observe the international relief efforts of humanitarian agencies including UNHCR, WFP, ECHO and several non-governmental organizations. The group met with refugees and their leadership and discussed with the relief agencies ways of ascertaining food and non-food assistance needs.
At a military level, the report comments that both sides have increased their training activities and there are restrictions on freedom of movement for MINURSO imposed by the Polisario Front following the state of war they decreed on 7 January.
In conclusion the SG is following the proposals of his Personal Envoy who wants, from now until the end of April, to determine whether «the government of Morocco, as administrative power in Western Sahara, is prepared to offer or support some devolution of authority for all inhabitants and former inhabitants of the Territory that is genuine, substantial and in keeping with international norms». «Failing such offer or support, MINURSO will be directed to begin hearing the pending appeals from the identification process on an expedited basis, without regard as how to long it might be expected to take to complete them.»
It should be noted that the referendum is no longer a priority but is used as a threat liable to push Morocco to finally accept a political solution.
Commentary and reactions
The Polisario Front, through a letter (french) of its representative to the UN, immediately reiterated its firm opposition to any initiative denying the legitimate right of the Saharawi people to self-determination, and warns against the risks of a resumption of armed hostilities if the UN abandons the option of the referendum of self-determination of the Saharawi people. Ahmed Boukhari points out that the report recognises that the problem of the appeals can be resolved and concludes that there is therefore no reason to look for alternatives to the referendum.
The permanent representative of Algeria to the UN, received by Mr Kofi Annan, raised the question of Western Sahara and reiterated the constant position of Algeria based on the strict implementation of the settlement plan and the relevant resolutions of the United Nations. During an interview with Mr Said Ben Mustapha (Tunisia) president of the Security Council, Mr Baali again recalled that Algeria is sticking to a scrupulous implementation of the settlement plan and the Houston Agreements as well as respect of international law.
For Le Matin du Sahara, Morocco has already replied to the expectations of the UN, through proposals contained in a memorandum presented 3 weeks after the Berlin talks (...), proposals which would be consistent with «a quick, durable and acceptable solution» required by Baker, but conditional on the «strict respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity» of Morocco.
Al-Bayane (P.P.S) titles its editorial : Unacceptable proposals, and writes : «we should also recall that Morocco was pressing the UN to organise a referendum in a calm atmosphere... So that it appears very strange that the UN Secretary General and his personal envoy are departing from the mission with which they were first charged to get involved in tortuous paths... The proposals of Messrs Kofi Annan and James Baker are unacceptable».
Maroc-Hebdo (ind): On its cover: «The SG report on the Sahara opts for a large autonomy. The UN has cut through.» Historic turning point in the Sahara case, it is no longer question of a referendum. But of a transfer of some internal powers, in the context of a policy of national regionalisation and with respect for the territorial integrity of Morocco.
The Spanish press unanimously underlined that the SG was imposing an ultimatum on Morocco summoning it to accept a solution of autonomy to the detriment of a referendum.
The Algerian press:
Kofi Annan's proposal which brings back the "third way" option summoning Morocco to delegate a part of its power over the Sahara to the Saharawis, violates clearly the UN resolutions. (El Watan, 24.02.01)
The Andean Parliament, which brings together deputies from Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, adopted a resolution on Western Sahara, in which it expresses itself "profoundly preoccupied" by the situation in which citizens of SADR live. It asks those involved to proceed to the referendum as quickly as possible and that the decision of the Saharawi people should be respected.
The Spanish trades union confederation Comisiones Obreras decided not to take part in the 4th congress of the Moroccan trades union CDT because it will be held in El Ayoun, capital of the territories occupied by Morocco from 14-16 March.
27.02.76 - 27.02.01
25th anniversary of SADR
After the first demonstrations which took place in France: Limoges, Spain: Logroño, Bilbao, Italy: Rome, Belgium: Brussels, etc
... others are planned in Spain: Barcelona , Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Alicante, Barcelona, Almansa, Vitoria- Gasteiz, Viladecans Barcelona, Elda (Alicante), Albacete, Italy: Pistoia, France: Pantin, Switzerland: Geneva, Cuba: La Havanna, Santiago de Cuba, Holguín, Camaguey..., Australia: Sidney, Slovenia: Ljubljana etc
... and in the camps the Sahara Marathon - a real humanitarian and sporting challenge.
A marathon, a half marathon and shorter runs of 10 and 5 kilometres will be run in the middle of the desert between the camps of El Ayoun and Smara.
The aim is firstly to give a little hope to the refugees who feel themselves abandoned since the referendum expected in 1992 was postponed sine die. Secondly to draw the attention of the media to the forgotten conflict of Western Sahara. And finally to collect funds to help Saharawi refugee children.
The idea of the Sahara marathon came from the United States, within various humanitarian NGOs such as the US Western Sahara Foundation, Shelter for Life International, then other associations joined them such as Ecologistas en Acción, Corredores Solidarios (Runners in solidarity), Consejo de la Juventud de España (Spanish Youth Council), Algerian National Youth Union etc. Sponsorship was taken on by the National Union of Saharawi Women who invited sporting people from the whole world to take part in the Sahara marathon as a sign of good will and hope.
A thousand participants have been announced coming from every continent, among them seasoned marathon runners suuch as Martin Fiz, who came 5th in the Sydney Olympic Games, world champion in 1995, Benito Ojeda, champion of Spain 2000, Fabian Roncero, record-breaker for Spain, Juan Francisco Romera, Spanish champion in 1990, Juan Carlos Montero, 5th in the New York marathon and Ron Hill, Olympic champion in the 1970s will also be present.
Pagina Saharawi in italiano con photos, storia, marathon... : http://alfiotondelli.firenze.net
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