The Moroccan news (and propaganda) agency Maghreb Arabe Presse has run a story claiming that nearly 100 Sahrawi have fled the Polisario-run camps in Algeria in order “to enjoy dignified, united and stable life in Morocco” [sic]. This gives MAP an opportunity to slag off the Polisario and plug Morocco’s “Autonomy Plan”, under which the international community and a pro-Moroccan body of Sahrawi dignitaries would endorse the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara in exchange for a measure of political devolution within the occupied areas of the territory (how big a measure is debatable, and the fate of the Polisario-controlled “Free Zone” of Western Sahara is conveniently ignored).
The article states that several of the alleged Sahrawi migrants participated in a meeting of Sahrawi dissidents held in Gjijimat near Tifariti in December 2007 “to voice adherence to Morocco’s autonomy proposal”. Apparently this was a sort of fringe meeting held at the same time as what MAP refers to as “the so-called 12th Congress of Polisario leadership in the buffer zone of Tifariti” (“so-called” is a favourite turn of phrase of Morocan propagandists when it comes to all things Polisario-related, but at least they’ve resisted the temptation to put quotation marks around the word “Polisario” every time they type it).
The Polisario congress received wide (withing the context of Saharan affairs) coverage – I watched a lot of it on Al Jazeera while sitting in a Polisario base in the far south of the Free Zone (read into that what you will). A search for “Gjijimat” throws up a lot of pro-Moroccan websites reporting on the alleged dissidents’ meeting, but little else, so I can’t report on whether such a meeting took place or on anything that may have resulted from it (although this matter is alluded to on the excellent and relatively dispassionate Western Sahara Info blog, which suggests that, as with all Sahara coverage emanating from MAP, reports about the Gjijimat meeting should be treated with caution, if not buried in a large barrel of salt). If anyone can find Gjijimat on a map, please let me know.
Whether the meeting at Gjijimat was real or a fiction dreamed up by MAP, it was reportedly held under a sign reading “Autonomy as a Final Solution to Achieve Reconciliation and Dignified Return to the Homeland”.
Autonomy as a “Final Solution”? I always suspected as much.
By the way, today’s top MAP story (just beating the story about the alleged flight of the dissident Sahrawi) is titled “King is in Good Health, [according to] Ministry of Royal Household”. Apparently Mohammed VI went to Paris to “take some rest” and “not to receive any health care of undergo whatever surgery” [sic]. Always good to have one’s newspaper lead with an important story about the good health of one’s leader. It helps the democratisation process proceed smoothly, knowing that your absolute ruler isn’t about to cark it.
(For younger readers – not you Will – it might be worth explaining that the “Final Solution” was the name the Nazis gave to their programme of genocide against the Jews and other “undesirable” groups. I’ll resist the base urge to draw further comparisons).
 What the Moroccans call the “buffer zone” (or sometimes the “demilitarized zone”) is actually the zone controlled by the Polisario independence movement, a zone which Morocco has not occupied and in which Morocco has no presence (see earlier posts on the partition of Western Sahara). The Polisario and the exiled Sahrawi refer to this zone as the “Free Zone”, and many Sahrawi living in exile in the camps in Algeria (and also in Mauritania) often enter the Free Zone, for example to graze camels when rains result in good pasture, or to attend political events organised by the Polisario. The Moroccan establishment prefers to play down the fact that there is a sizable part of Western Sahara that it doesn’t control, and which is run by a government that it refused to acknowledge. There is an actual buffer zone, or restricted area, extending for some distance either side of the “Berm“, the Moroccan-built wall (really a series of defensive earthworks exploiting the natural topography) that partitions Western Sahara. The restricted area, the limited extent of which leaves the Polisario plenty of space in the unoccupied areas east and south of the Berm, can be seen on this map showing the deployment of UN observers/peacekeepers from MINURSO.