In a reply to a letter from three Swedish NGOs signed by a number of MPs, political parties, youth organisations etc the Swedish foreign minister Anna Lindh says on 12 December : «We are still calling for the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination, whichever way they choose to reach a solution. We do not consider Morocco to have the right to negotiate on the Saharawi fishing or to grant oil or other concessions. Both parties and above all Morocco should restrain from deliberate provocations in whatever form they occur.»
Hadhiya Ould Hmeim, a Saharawi citizen, was abducted right in the street by special forces, tortured and brutally interrogated before being thrown back into the street. He was being accused of having taken part in the demonstrations on 17 November in Smara, organised to protest against the visit of the King of Morocco to the occupied territories. (SPS)
Students from the lycée Saguia el Hamra in Smara organised a sit-in in their school in solidarity with the Saharawi political detainees and to call for their release. (SPS)
Morocco - oil prospecting
The Moroccan government recalled, in a note to the Spanish authorities, the necessity of respecting international law and practice, which obliges neighbouring countries not to determine unilaterally their coastal borders, but through common consent. "The Spanish authorities, the communiqué adds, are surely aware that international law and practice accord different status to continental states and to islands in relation to their respective rights to territorial waters. They also know that geographical and geological studies of the region demonstrate clearly that the Moroccan continental shelf does not stop at the mid-way line." The company, Repsol, had signed an agreement for oil exploration around the Canary Islands on the basis of the rule of the mid-way line, which is applicable to territorial waters of countries less than 200 nautical miles apart.
Since 25.12.01, Saharawi political prisoners and common law prisoners in the civil prison of El Ayoun are on an unlimited hunger strike, to protest against their conditions of incarceration. The action is taken by 131 people. There are 23 political prisoners, arrested for having taken part in demonstrations in El Ayoun and Smara. Six of them were sentenced on 20.12.01, the others are awaiting sentence. They denounce the repression, the abductions and the summary sentences of which they are victims and demand to be released immediately. Other common law prisoners have joined the political detainees, in protest at the discrimination which they suffer as Saharawis. They believe, among other things, that the punishments handed down to them are more severe than those given to Moroccans for the same offence.
Seven people have been transferred to hospital, 25 others are presenting serious health problems, but remain without care, likewise one of the strikers suffering from diabetes.
The conditions of detention in the civil prison of El Ayoun are deplorable: with a capacity to house 200-250 persons, the establishment is at present holding 700 detainees. The cells are overcrowded, leading to shocking conditions for health, the spread of infectious illnesses such as tuberculosis, sexual harassment particularly of minors, who do not have a separate section, as well as drug trafficking.
Over recent days the attitude of the authorities has hardened. Haddi Ahmed Mahmoud, a common law prisoner, suspected of being the instigator of the hunger strike movement, was beaten up by about 20 prison guards and isolated. The director of the prison uses threats and intimidation, forbids any transfer for medical care, exercise in the prison yard, and the use of the only public telephone in the prison. The hunger strikers are threatened with being sent to remand prisons in Morocco. Two of them, Alharti Sidahmed and El Moutrib Sidahmed were transferred on 3 January.
On 2 January, in a statement, the hunger strikers asked human rights organisations, in particular the Fondation France-Libertés, to intervene on their behalf with the Moroccan authorities and denounce once again the inhuman conditions of their imprisonment. They finally asked the UN Secretary General and his personal envoy, James Baker, to allow the Saharawi people to exercise its right to self-determination. ( corr., SPS)
Saharawi President requested on 02.01.01 the urgent intervention of
the Security Council with the Moroccan government on behalf of the
Saharawi hunger strikers in the prison of El Ayoun. (SPS)
For its part, Western Sahara Alliance Australia sent a similar message to Kofi Annan.
In parallel with the protest movement in the prison, mothers of detainees have been demonstrating since 26 December in front of the Court of Appeal and the civil prison. Each time they are dispersed by police and their leaflets confiscated. A third sit-in on 31.12 was also once again violently broken up.
On 2 January 70 mothers of detainees gathered in the morning in front of the city offices of El Ayoun, to demand the immediate release of their sons on hunger strike. They then went to the prison passing by the Magistrate's Court, the Court of Appeal and the MINURSO's HQ, all on the same street. At the end of their march anti-riot forces intervened brutally to disperse them, charging the women violently with batons and kicking them. 23 participants were injured. (corr.)
Prisoners of war
The Polisario Front announced the liberation of 115 Moroccan prisoners of war on the occasion of the New Year and the end of Ramadan. They were freed at the request of the President of the Spanish government, José Maria Aznar. This was done to show "gratitude for the interest that Spain has always shown for the conflict in Western Sahara". The Spanish Red Cross and the ICRC will be responsible for the repatriation. There are still 1362 Moroccan prisoners of war.
The Spanish government expressed its satisfaction at the announcement of the liberation. It declared itself ready to work, during its presidency of the EU from January to June 2002, towards a solution of the conflict, including its humanitarian aspects, working in the context of respect for international law and the legitimate interests and aspirations of all the parties involved.
In a statement, MINURSO asked the two parties to free all detainees imprisoned since the beginning of the conflict. It considers that continuing to hold prisoners of war is a serious humanitarian problem in view of their age, their state of health and the length of the captivity.
On a visit to the Saharawi refugee camps, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Western Sahara, the American diplomat, William Lacy Swing, was received by President Mohamed Abdelaziz. He also met expert chioukh from the UN Identification Commission and representatives of civil society. Interviewed by SPS, Mr Swing called the liberation of 115 Moroccan prisoners of war "a humanitarian gesture (that) everyone will applaud". On the subject of the fate of the 131 Saharawi prisoners on hunger strike in El Ayoun prison, Mr Swing indicated that he is "aware of the situation and about to discuss it through diplomatic channels."
In a statement to SPS, M'hamed Khaddad, coordinator with MINURSO, underlined that the "Mr Swing's political journey (...) predisposes him more than any other to fully accomplish his mission ". Concerning the meeting with the Saharawi President, Khaddad commented that "we have above all insisted on the necessity to resume as soon as possible the implementation of the United Nations settlement plan". For Mr Khaddad, the Polisario Front "has just given new proof of its good will and its receptiveness". He mentioned the agreement given to the organisers of the Total-Dakar rally to cross Saharawi territory as well as the "unilateral" liberation of 115 Moroccan prisoners of war. (SPS)
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