The Moroccan Prime Minister on a visit to El Ayoun on the occasion of International Women's Day, raised the project of autonomy for the Sahara that Morocco is working on for the UN. He made clear that they were willing to negotiate a statute with "our compatriots in Tindouf". This brought a reaction from Aboubakr Jamai in the weekly, Le Journal: "It is frankly a redefinition of the Moroccan Nation which is being drawn up without the country's political or intellectual élite rising up against this confiscation of one of the Moroccan people's most inalienable prerogatives..." Approached by a group of Saharawi women, who wanted to put before him their problems of unemployment and marginalisation, Youssoufi refused any meeting.
El Ayoun, Trades Union congress
The Democratic Confederation of Work, a Moroccan trades union close to USFP, held its 4th congress in El Ayoun. The invited foreign union partners boycotted the meeting, such as the CGT of Portugal and the CC.OO of Spain. The congress took place, according to a correspondent on the ground, under impressive police surveillance, Polisario Front flags having been discovered nearby. The government had made available significant logistical support, the participants traveled in military planes. In his speech, the general secretary Amaoui roundly criticised the deputy mayor of El Ayoun, Khalihenna ould Rachid, and his initiatives in favour of autonomy for the Sahara (see week 10). The significance of the holding of this congress in El Ayoun was emphasised by many speakers as "testimony to Moroccans' attachment to their unity and territorial integrity" and the town of El Ayoun was described as "a symbol of national unity".
The discriminatory remarks of Amaoui, describing the Saharawis as "keepers of goats and camels", provoked reactions among the Saharawi workers present, who left the congress. Protests increased and several petitions circulated among the participants in the congress, the notables and Saharawi civil society. They collected hundreds of signatures denouncing the provocation and the insult and asked for apologies from Amaoui and the government, represented by Prime Minister Youssoufi. (corr., SPS)
Export of arms to Morocco
The British parliamentary committees of inquiry on the granting of an arms export licence to Morocco destined for Western Sahara, published their report. It notes that the government misled parliament and should have refused to deliver arms to this conflict zone. (week 10, WSC UK press release)
Meanwhile, AVN agency (Moscow) announced that Morocco had passed a contract to purchase 48 T-72 tanks from Belarus. France, for its part and in the context of its traditional military cooperation with Morocco, has just given the green light to the delivery to Morocco of its Janus software , ultramodern simulator for training in war tactics.
On the ground, a Saharawi military official stated, according to SPS, that the Moroccan army for some weeks has been undertaking offensive preparations on the defensive wall in Western Sahara.
Spain - twinning arrangements
The Spanish government called three municipalities of the autonomous region of Madrid to cancel their twinning agreements with Saharawi municipalities, arguing that Spain does not recognise SADR.
Over 250 Spanish cities over recent years have concluded such twinning pacts or cooperation agreements with communes (daïra) in the refugee camps.
The European Parliamentary intergroup "Peace for the Saharawi People" reacted strongly and expressed its indignation in a statement sent to Spanish media. It called for the twin towns of other countries to indicate their disapproval to the Spanish government.
An MP for Spanish Cortès called upon the Minister of the Interior and the Spanish League for Human Rights protested in a statement .
The Plataforma Pro Referendum Libre en el Sahara Occidental and the Asociacion Amigos del Pueblo Saharaui de Madrid called for a street demonstration on Saturday 17 March, demanding the resignation of whoever was responsible for this decision.
Elsewhere, mayors of seven communes of the province of Grenada have just ratified twinning arrangements with their cities with a Saharawi commune during a stay in the camps: Tichla with Iznalloz, Zoug with Maracena, La Guera with Guadix, Chederia with Salar, Bir Lehlou with Benalua de la Villas, Gleibat el Foula with Guadahortuna and Mahbès with Villanueva.
Morocco - human rights
The families of disappeared and victims of forced disappearance decided to start a hunger strike on Friday 23 and Saturday 24 March at the seat of the OADP in Casablanca.
Their principal demands, namely the liberation of those detainees still alive and the return of the bodies of the dead to their families, have not been taken up.
Occupied territories- mines
A man was killed and two others seriously wounded after their car drove over a mine near "Erbeib Bellaw" in the vicinity of Smara. These people were travelling as nomads not far from the defensive wall in a zone which had been declared safe by the Moroccan authorities. (SPS)
The Saharawi citizen, Salek Mahmoud Bahaha, who since the end of September 2000 has been seeing out a prison sentence of four years for endangering State security by having tried to join the Polisario Front (week 40 and week 41), has been observing a hunger strike in bed for the past week. He intends through this to protest against the conditions of detention in the prison of Marrakech, to ask for the review of his trial on grounds of incorrect procedure and his return to the prison of Inzegan, where his three compatriots Najem Laghzal, Khaya Cheikh and El-Arbi Messaoud, are also sentenced to 4 years in prison. According to SPS his state of health is precarious. Bahaha had already been on hunger strike last November. (week 46)
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