WEEKS 33-34 : 13.08.-27.08.2005
XVIth World Festival of youth and students, Caracas
During the festival, the town of Caracas signed a twinning agreement with El Ayoun refugee camp. Hector Sanchez, Director of International Cooperation in Caracas, declared on this occasion that it was an alliance with a political character, but also an exchange of experience in the fields of education, health, culture and sport.[ABN, 12/08/2005, Caracas]
In its final declaration [espanol] , the festival expressed "its solidarity and its support for the people and the youth of Western Sahara in their struggle for the right to freedom and self-determination".
RELEASE of the last Moroccan prisoners of war in the hands of the Polisario Front.
The Polisario front released the last 404 Moroccan prisoners of war, from over 2000 captured since the beginning of the war against Morocco. After signing the act of repatriation with the ICRC delegate on the ground, the Polisario Front proceeded to the liberation of the prisoners during a ceremony attended by Senator Richard Lugar, president of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and as such, the envoy of the US President, G.W. Bush. He was accompanied by the head of the American troops in Europe and Commander of the NATO forces General James Jones.
This repatriation follows mediation by the United States of America. The fact that George Bush sent the president of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accompanied on the presidential aircraft by General Jones, as well as the presence in Tindouf of about sixty American marines in charge of security, shows the scale of the American involvement. The prisoners were transported to Agadir on board two DC-10s belonging to the American army.
In his speech, President Abdelaziz declared that "the event which brings us together today constitutes the end of the process to which my country has consented through the appeals from numerous partners and friends, but also from our deeply held humanitarian convictions". He recalled that "the humanitarian aspects of this conflict are by no means discharged", making allusion to some 150 Saharawi soldiers [list], whose fate remains unknown, as does that of over 500 victims of forced disappearance [list]. Furthermore, about thirty Saharawi citizens are presently incarcerated in Morocco and Western Sahara for political reasons [list].
For his part, the American Senator, Richard Lugar declared that he hoped that "the happy outcome of this humanitarian problem will inspire renewed efforts to work for a political solution, with the framework of the United Nations".
The ICRC announced that from now on it would make an effort to elucidate the fate of "all those who have disappeared through this conflict". "For the time being, we have counted 142 unresolved Saharawi cases, there are 262 on the Moroccan side, explains Marc Bouvier, the Red Cross official and coordinator of the Protection department of the North African region, who confirms that SADR has made the ICRC aware of the disappearance of 500 Saharawis. Morocco, according to him "stubbornly refuses access to international organisations". "We have obtained an authorisation to visit Tunisian, Mauritanian and Algerian prisons, Morocco is the only one to refuse us access", Mr Bouvier asserts. The Swiss representative remains optimistic. "We are having discussions with the Moroccan authorities which are making steady progress", he declares.
Reactions and Comment
There is satisfaction on all sides: among others let us quote UN, African Union (which calls for reciprocity from Morocco), the Arab League, the European Union, the governments of the United States, Algeria, Spain, France, Germany, Norway and Sweden. Political parties, parliamentarians (American in particular), Amnesty International and many committees of solidarity have also made their satisfaction known.
It should be pointed out, as Carlos Ruiz has written in Libertad Digital, that this event signals the defeat of Franco-Spanish diplomacy and underlines the involvement of the USA in the region. For Mr.Saâdoune of the Quotidien d'Oran,"the attempts by Paris and Madrid to reduce the crisis to a "head to head" between Algiers and Rabat have finished in failure. The temptation to get the UN out of the case, as Morocco would wish, has revealed itself to be unproductive and even Paris, which totally supports Rabat, speaks now of "a political solution" in "the context of the UN". A position reiterated by the European Union which indicated its support for the efforts of Mr Kofi Annan "to find a lasting and mutually acceptable solution to the conflict of Western Sahara within the framework of UN resolutions".
In Morocco, the language remains stilted, even if the world of politics and the press rejoiced at the liberation: "Justice has been done", the Moroccan government spokesman, Nabil Benabdellah considers (see also the comments of Ahmed Benani [french]. "Their release doesn't constitute in any way a gesture by the Polisario", declares the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs in a statement, but he adds: "Morocco welcomes the many appeals launched (...) by the partners of the Maghreb region in favour of the search, under the aegis of the UN, for a lasting political solution acceptable to all the parties".Some, however, have asked that the public powers take proper charge of the reintegration of the former prisoners, often neglected by the authorities.
In its statement (21.08.05), the Moroccan political party Ennehj Addimoucrati (the Democratic Way) expressed its hope that the recent release of the last Moroccan prisoners by the Polisario Front might contribute to settling the conflict of Western Sahara "on the basis of international law and self-determination". It called on the Moroccan government to "release the Saharawi prisoners of opinion".
The American president George W. Bush sent a message on 24 August to the President of the Algerian Republic, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to thank him for "having facilitated the humanitarian liberation of the last Moroccan prisoners of war held by the Polisario Front".
>> Page of links relating to the release of the last Moroccan prisoners of war
OCCUPIED TERRITORIES AND SOUTH MOROCCO
Peaceful demonstrations continue in the occupied towns, angled mainly at the political prisoners and the repressive measures against them: limiting the right to visitors, improper transfers, refusal of medical care, etc. The level of policing is maintained, creating a real "state of siege". The peaceful demonstrations which take place despite this situation are brutally dispersed and turn into almost permanent confrontations with their toll of injuries and arrests.
The families of four Saharawi political prisoners, transferred improperly on 1 August last from the Black Prison in El Ayoun to Casablanca, met once again at the entrance to the prison, men, women and children, carrying an enormous banner calling for the release of their relatives. Police forces dispersed the gathering after several hours and confiscated the banner. [>> more]
another illegal transfer
At 5 am two Saharawi political prisoners, sentenced to 4 years in prison, were transferred to Aït Melloul near Agadir, where their presence was pointed out on 22 August, after political prisoners, Ali Salem Tamek and Mahmoud Hadi El Kainan, organised a sit-in of protest in the courtyard of their prison, refusing to return to their cells. The two concerned are Baba Laarabi and Elhafed Toubali, who were on hunger strike in the Black Prison.
inculpation and confrontation
Three young Saharawi citizens, Tahlil Mohamed, Eljanhi Khalifa and Lahwidi Mahmoud, arrested on 13 and 14 August following their participation in peaceful demonstrations, were found guilty and imprisoned in the Black Prison.
The confrontation of the human rights defender, Hmad Hammad with Tahlil Mohamed, carefully set up by the police, did not give the results they counted on. The young man, heavily pressurised by torture, refused to admit that he knew the human rights activist. The judicial authorities are attempting to make out Hmad is a criminal, arrested on 9 August, by trying to relate him to young people accused of constituting an armed criminal gang and for the attack on a police station.
A Saharawi citizen, Amaydane Elwali has been imprisoned in the Black Prison in El Ayoun.
A Saharawi citizen Asfari Naama is challenged by secret police agents of the DST outside his house in Tantan. He is interrogated for nearly 4 hours following his remarks on RFI concerning the release of the prisoners of war, which were considered pro-Polisario.
Unlimited Hunger Strike
On 8 August 2005 about thirty Saharawi political prisoners in the prisons of El Ayoun, Aït Melloul and Oukacha &endash; Casablanca start a hunger strike to protest against their illegal detention, the improper transfer of human rights defenders to different prisons with no possibility for contact and the inhuman conditions of their incarceration.
A monitoring committee for the hunger strike of Saharawi political prisoners has been set up in Spain. [comunicado] It calls on the Spanish government to intervene on behalf of the prisoners.
Four Spanish priests returning from a visit to El Ayoun from 3 to 5 August denounce in a report [in Spanish] the brutal repression and the torture which the Moroccan regime makes the population of Western Sahara undergo. They launch an appeal to the international community.
The President of the Republic, Mohamed Abdelaziz, makes an urgent appeal to the American President G.W.Bush to ask him to liberate the prisoners on hunger strike and "to put an end to the tragedy of the Saharawi people and the region, of which the prisoners of war are only a tiny part."
A committee of AMDH, the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, did not receive authorisation to visit the Saharawi political prisoners in the Black Prison as part of an inquiry. The Committee is composed of seven members, including two lawyers.
Ayoun &endash; Black Prison
The families of the Saharawi political prisoners have taken up positions in a sit-in outside and in the entrance hall of the Black Prison to protest about the lack of care and restrictions in visiting the prisoners. The gathering was dispersed by a GUS unit led by the torturer, Ichi Bouhassane causing injuries and arrests.
The Coordination of Associations of solidarity with the Saharawi people in Spain organises a demonstration and a token hunger strike of 24 hours outside the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid, against the brutal repression in the occupied territories and in solidarity with the Saharawi political prisoners on unlimited hunger strike. About a hundred people, among them representatives of the 17 Spanish autonomous regions, took part.
Mothers of the prisoners on hunger strike express their concern in the face of the deterioration in the health of the prisoners, they hold the prison authorities responsible for what might happen to their sons and demand an independent inquiry.
The wives of imprisoned human rights defenders, Mohamed Elmoutaoikil and Ali Salem Tamek express their suffering in public statements.[Testimony of the Sahrawi political prisoner Mohamed Elmoutaoikil's wife] [Appel d'Aichatou Ramdan Chafiin] [Llamamiento de Aichatou Ramdan Chafii]
The Saharawi political prisoners send a letter to the President of the Republic, Mohamed Abdelaziz, in which they congratulate him on the recent unilateral release of the last 404 Moroccan prisoners of war.
After over two weeks of going without food, the hunger strikers' health deteriorates presenting symptoms such as loss of sensitivity in the extremities, loss of muscular mass, headaches and cramps, fatigue, weakness, fainting. In Casablanca, the families were not authorised to see their relatives.
Several prisoners were transferred temporarily to hospitals, where there were subjected to strong pressure to start taking food or were force fed. They are trying to get them to sign statements discharging the authorities of any responsibility concerning developments in their state of health. In the Black Prison, the prison authorities are alleged to have promised the hunger strikers they would accept their claims, except for the lifting of the siege in Western Sahara and the quashing of sentences. The hunger strikers refused and demand that negociations go through Ali Salem Tamek, their only spokesman, deported to Aït Melloul. >> Detailed Chronology on http://www.arso.org/infifada2005
In a statement sent to the press after the arrival in Agadir of the 404 liberated Moroccans, Richard Lugar reiterated his hope of seeing the resolution of the conflict make progress. Lugar was received the next day by the King of Morocco.
Senator Lugar spoke at greater length in an interview on Abu Dhabi TV (19.08.05): "We are fighting terrorism. Cooperation between our friends Morocco and Algeria is imperitive. We ask [Algeria and Morocco] to return to the UN, to take advantage of this new opportunity [created by the liberation], as a sign of good will and good faith." Lugar said the United States does not have a particular formula to resolve the dispute but would like to see a reopening of the Algerian-Moroccan border, an exchange of high-level governmental visits and trade between the North African neighbors. ..."I would urge that Morocco and Algeria seize the opportunity presented by the release of all the remaining prisoners to create a regional climate conducive to a settlement of the Western Sahara issue. I would also hope that the successful resolution of this humanitarian issue would inspire renewed efforts by the parties to work for a political solution within the framework of the United Nations."
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