WESTERN SAHARA ALLIANCE
Paris-Dakar Race Win for Saharawis
Rally organisers back down during meetings with Polisario Front
Tuesday 24 December 2001
The organisers of this year's Paris-Dakar Car Rally, TSO (Thierry Sabine Organisation) have announced the cancellation of the controversial Western Sahara leg of the annual race after discussions with the Polisario Front at their headquarters in the Saharan Refugee Camps in southern Algeria.
The announcement came after Roger Kalmanovitz of TSO visited the Refugee Camps and met with a Polisario delegation led by Mohamed Lamine Bouhali, defence minister. The SPS reported that Kalmanovitz had come especially to seek the Saharawis' agreement for the event to cross the disputed territories of Western Sahara. This would occur at night however and the official stage of the rally which crosses the territories would be cancelled from the race.
This follows the controversy surrounding the Rally last year when Morocco (who invaded and have illegally occupied most of Western Sahara since 1975) encouraged Rally organisers to cross the disputed territory.
This was largely seen as an attempt by Morocco to legitimise their occupation and led the region to the brink of war. Polisario suspended their cease-fire and a race participant was injured by a land-mine.
The Western Sahara Alliance's Natalie Joughin, who was organising Australian actions to protest the Rally declared the decision by the TSO as a significant win for the Polisario Front.
"It shows that the international community's efforts to have race organisers consult with the Saharawi people's representatives, Polisario, have worked. It's a substantial victory and a slap in the face for Morocco who have been trying all sorts of dirty tricks to legitimise their illegal occupation."
She congratulated race organisers on their decision and urged the international community to continue to pressure the United Nations to hold the referendum on self-determination for the Saharawi people. "This referendum has been promised for 10 years by the UN and is the only way to end the conflict in the region. They have to demonstrate that they truly do deserve the Nobel Peace prize and not walk away from their promise."
Media enquiries: Natalie Joughin 0425 214 556
The Western Sahara Alliance comprises activists from trade unions, human rights, refugee and student groups and is committed to supporting the struggle of the Saharawi people for independence &endash; contact Stephanie.Brennan@fsunion.org.au