PRESS RELEASE.............

 Western Sahara (POLISARIO) - Mission for UK & Ireland

19 Hormead Road, London
W9 3NG - T/F: 020 89 64 52 11


UN must impose the referendum either Morocco agree or not.

The POWs must be released in accordance with the UN-OAU Peace Plan.

Media and independent observers must have free access to the Sahrawi occupied territories.

Morocco is trying to cynically take advantage of the post-September 11th international climate by requesting the immediate liberation of the Moroccan prisoners of war (POWs) held by the Frente POLISARIO, without any thing to offer in exchange. By doing this, Morocco is doing two things :

- first, by finally recognizing the existence of these Moroccan soldiers and their status as POWs, it acknowledges the existence of an international war between it and the State of Western Sahara (the Sahrawi Republic) in stark contradiction with its claim that Western Sahara is "Moroccan" ;

- second, by trying to recuperate the POWs now, outside the scope of the UN-OAU Peace Plan, which includes a special provision for the exchange of POWs during the transition period before the referendum, Morocco shows once more no will to respect the terms of the Peace Plan and its commitment to the referendum.

Since the beginning of the conflict, in 1975, the Frente POLISARIO has released 900 Moroccan POWs. By doing so, it shows its commitment to peace. Since 1975, it has always - as it is confirmed by different NGOs' missions, including the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) - insured decent conditions of living to the Moroccan POWs, despite the hard conditions resulting from the Moroccan military invasion, the exile, the war and other consequences. On the contrary, Morocco continues to deny the existence of the Sahrawi POWs, disappeared and detainees. It has been even denying the existence of its own POWs for a very long time, and it was only recently that it has raised this issue. Indeed, in 1989, Rabat refused to welcome 200 Moroccan POWs, who had been liberated unilaterally by the Frente POLISARIO. Morocco accepted their repatriation eight years later, in 1997 !

Obviously, the Moroccan PoWs question is a humanitarian preoccupation, but how about the fate of the all Sahrawi people who, for the past 27 years, have been enduring a harsh life, as a result of the Moroccan aggression of their country, and who continue to live in precarious and painful conditions, divided between the occupied territories and the refugee camps ?! Since 1975, Morocco violates the human rights in Western Sahara : it has used napalm bombs against civilians, forced many thousands of people to flee their country, caused the disappearance of hundreds of others, and practiced all kinds of intimidation. More recently, 131 Sahrawi detainees has observed in the Lak'hal prison of El Aaiun (Western Sahara) a hunger strike from 24th December 2001 to 17 January 2002 to denounce the Moroccan human rights abuses. To only focus on the issue of Moroccan POWs, and at the same time to ignore the Sahrawi POWs, the repression committed against the Sahrawi civil population and the inhumane conditions of the detainees in the occupied territories, is an unfair (political) attitude which only aims to legitimate the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara.

It is worth recalling that the issue of Moroccan POWs is treated by one of the 1991 UN-OAU Peace Plan provisions. Therefore, it is not honest to ignore provisions and only implement the ones that serve the interests of Morocco. It must be recalled also that the exchange of POWs intervene after the war ends. Now the war has not ended yet. Of course a cease-fire is observed since 6 September 1991, but there is no peace because the war can resume at any time. The war will end completely when the people of the last colony in Africa &endash; Western Sahara - exert their right to self-determination through a free, fair and transparent referendum, according to the UN-OAU Peace Plan accepted in 1991 by Morocco and the Frente POLISARIO, and endorsed by the UN Security Council and the General Assembly the same year. UN must achieve the implementation of this Peace Plan and impose the holding of the referendum either Morocco agree or not, because it is its responsibility to complete the process it has started in 1991.

We call upon the international community, particularly the British opinion and Her Majesty's Government to stand with justice and support the referendum of self-determination in Western Sahara so that the POWs and detainees of both parties could be released in accordance with the UN-OAU Peace Plan provisions. Morocco must free all Sahrawi political prisoners, including the Sahrawi disappeared. It must stop terror and repression in the occupied territories. Media, human rights organisations and independent observers must have free access to the Sahrawi occupied territories.

London, Friday 1st February, 2002

Fadel Ismail
Head of Western Sahara (POLISARIO) Mission for UK & Ireland


[Communiqués, letters. documents]