Western Sahara Campaign UK

16 March 2000


Intifada in Western Sahara - Morocco in retreat

Fierce repression by Moroccan forces of order has followed recent demonstrations by Saharawi citizens, both in Morocco (Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakech, Agadir) and in occupied Western Sahara.   The town of Smara and the capital, El Ayoun, are in a state of siege since 4 March, with a curfew declared from 7 pm.   Heavy reinforcements of military and security forces patrol the streets and there is an atmosphere of terror.

Paradoxically, Morocco is simultaneously courting support for a plan of 'limited autonomy' in place of the referendum on self-determination in Western Sahara.   It has the support of France and is attempting to get Spain and the US to sign up to this new strategy.

'If this is the plan, one wonders how the repression fits into it', said Keith Lomax, chair of the Western Sahara Campaign.    'Recent actions by the Moroccan authorities, with complete disregard for human rights, in the occupied towns must be enough to convince any wavering minds that remaining under Moroccan rule (autonomous or not) could never be a good idea'.   

Morocco has accused the Western press of exaggerating the events, and two Spanish journalists of being simply mouthpieces of the Polisario.   It issued a statement to Agence France Presse saying that the marches and demonstrations were illegal because they were attempting to put pressure on the justice system and there are ways of doing this without resorting to the streets.   The 'gatherings' (ie popular uprisings) were quelled in keeping with laws (which it cites).   The laws invoked are its own as imposed on the Saharawi people by military force.   By contrast, Morocco totally disregards the laws of the international community.   

It claims that every means of dispersing the crowd peacefully was tried, but the participants in the 'gathering' did not obey.   The police only intervened when they had stones thrown at them.  People arrested by the police were released soon after their papers were checked, they claim.   (Although we hear from other sources that 5, subjected to 15 hours of interrogation, are shortly to be tried.)  

According to the Sahara Press Service(SPS) this is the first time in the history of Morocco that the National Security Service has communicated with the Western press not to intimidate, but to give details of an event in which it has  been involved.

In other words, Morocco is fully aware that reporting of these events is bad publicity just when it is trying to establish a climate of opinion favourable to its human rights record, especially in the press of countries it regards as allies such as Spain and France. Morocco is in retreat.   It is obviously fearful of a civilian population beyond control in Western Sahara.

The UN Security Council put off an emergency closed-door session on Friday 10 March, allegedly to gather more information before deciding whether or how it could protect the local civilian population and affirm its right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.   The UN has maintained silence about the popular demonstration calling for the release of political detainees and for national liberation, despite the fact that much of it was happening directly outside its main office in El Ayoun, including the burning of one of its own vehicles.

16 March 2000

Western Sahara Campaign UK
Oxford Chambers
Leeds LS13AX
tel: ++44 113 245 4786 / 250 8353

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