Two weeks after the UN's ultimatum, the idea of autonomy for the Sahara is beginning to be publicly raised in Morocco. Khalihenna ould Rachid, a pro-Moroccan Saharawi notable, deputy mayor of El Ayoun, is multiplying meetings and statements in an effort to make himself a spokesperson for the Saharawis under Moroccan occupation (see Week 08). He is singing the praises of the autonomy solution which is favoured by the big powers and the UN and which is beginning to gain ground in Morocco.
History repeats itself
Driven to decolonisation, Spain had counted in 1974 on him to preserve their interests. Khalihenna had thus created PUNS, a pseudo-nationalist party, and should have become the first president of an 'independent' Sahara. The invasion and integration of the territory with Morocco changed the deal, Khalihenna became the Moroccan Minister for Saharan affairs.
In his recent statements, Khalihenna presents himself anew as leader of the national Saharawi tendency and claims: "I say to you that it is the time to say to the world that we exist and that we must implement the regionalist option - in Spain they call it autonomist - for our territory." (El Pais, 26.02.01).
He doesn't hesitate to say, in another interview, that the economic and social situation in the Sahara is serious, catastrophic, even explosive. "The events [of October 1999] could happen again, and worse .... These last weeks, things nearly exploded again." He wants to channel discontent in the Sahara, where, he recognises, the problem has a political basis. In his opinion, the one responsible is Basri, his bad management of the issue, the Houston agreements, "which Morocco was not obliged to sign". His successor as Minister of the Interior is no better, he only camouflages the real situation. For nothing has been done. The consultative Council for Saharan Affairs, announced in 1999 by the King, has remained a dead letter, Khalihenna stated. (Maroc Hebdo International, 09.03.01).
Otherwhise, Morocco is timidly taking awareness of the real situation after the latest proposals from the UN. Serfaty warns: "The stakes are clear and precise (...) either Morocco accepts to go along the third way, or the UN will clinch the census in a direction which will give rise to independence (...) We are at a crossroads and the destiny of the country depends on it." (La Nouvelle Tribune, 22.02.01).
The Moroccan government, through the voice of its Secretary of State for Telecommunications, lets it be understood that he is preparing a formula for autonomy for Western Sahara, inspired by Spanish regionalism (01.03.01, EFE). How Morocco is carved up is under review, the number of regions would be reduced from 16 to 10 and the Sahara would form a single entity, announces the newspaper La Vérité (09.03.01).
A motion put down by Senator Lyn Allison in the Australian Senate was unanimously accepted. It asks the Australian government to make representations to the UN and Morocco to hold the referendum as soon as possible and to warn the British government about the consequences of arms sales in the region.
Ayach Baba Yahdih, 17 years, a student at "Laayoune 3", who had been arrested with his two brothers on 11 February after the burning of a car (see week 07), was sentenced to two years in prison by the Magistrates' Court.
Mohamed Najem Laabi, arrested on 12 February at El Ayoun airport (see week 07), accused of falsification of papers and transferred to Morocco, was freed after having spent ten days in the Commissariat of Tangiers. (corr.).
Around thirty members of the Spanish parliament formed an intergroup "Peace for the Saharawi People", in which all the parties, excepted the Popular Party, are represented. Its objectives are to support the peace plan for Western Sahara, to defend human rights in Western Sahara, and to give humanitarian aid to the Saharawi refugees. The group is planning to send delegations to the refugee camps and to the occupied territories.
Mohamed VI has appointed Mohammed Bennouna as the permanent representative of Morocco to the United Nations. With a doctorate in international law and a degree in public law and political science, Mr Bennouna has, since 1998, been sitting as an international judge in the International Penal Court for the former Yugoslavia. He was part of the Moroccan delegation to the International Court of Justice in 1975 and was director general of the Institute of the Arab World in Paris from 1991-1998.
British arms for Western sahara
BBC TV Newsnight Investigation on Arms Licence: Robin Denselow on the major British TV news programme investigated the British Government's licence to refurbish Moroccan weapons in Western Sahara. Newsnight concluded that "Parliament was misled over Moroccan arms sale." Newsnight was told by UN Spokesperson David Wimhurst that the UN did not give permission for the refurbishment of these guns. The British Government claimed that the (UN) Legal Department had advised that the licence would not violate the UN ceasefire agreement. The head of the UN Legal Department, Hans Corell, told Newsnight that his department was never consulted about this licence. Newsnight also interviewed former UN Special Representative Charles Dunbar who said that he was never consulted. Newsnight discover that the licence allowed the Royal Ordnance (BAE Systems) company to refurbish 30 Moroccan guns to a value of £1.5 million. The guns have a range of 17 kilometres and fire up to 12 rounds per minute. Government failed to provide a British Minister for interview on the programme. ( transcript or TV movie ) (see week 05)
Comité de solidaridad con el Sáhara interpueblos, Cantabria, España: http://www.nodo50.org/labarored/interpueblos/actividad/sahara_occidental/home.htm
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