Text of Military Agreement #1

November 8, 2011

In my last post I urged people to contact MINURSO and UN Peacekeeping to ask why vital information on the terms of the ceasefire in Western Sahara has been removed from the MINURSO website, and request that this information be reinstated. Here is the text in question, from Military Agreement (MA) #1, copied from the MINURSO website in October 2008 (from this address, which is now defunct: http://www.minurso.unlb.org/monitoring.html):

“MA#1 divides the disputed territory of Western Sahara into five parts:
• One 5 km wide Buffer Strip (BS) to the South and East side of the Berm;
• Two 30 km wide Restricted Areas (RA) along the Berm. The Buffer Strip is included in the
Restricted Area on the POLISARIO side and the Berm is included in the Restricted Area on
the RMA side;
• Two Areas with Limited Restrictions (ALR), which are the two remaining vast, stretches of
land of Western Sahara on both sides respectively.”

I quoted this text in a Briefing Note I prepared on the partition of Western Sahara, also in October 2008.

For a graphical representation of MA#1 click here. For Map A4-010 showing the ceasefire on the ground, see below, or click here for a jpeg version.

I’ve posted all this before, and will keep reposting it until MINURSO reinstates the relevant ceasefire information on its website, and Morocco’s propagandists stop their attempts to mislead the world into believing that Morocco controls all of Western Sahara, and that the Polisario-controlled areas are in fact an empty “buffer strip” set up by the UN for Morocco’s protection (the buffer zone is just 5km wide on one side of the Berm, and there is parity between the Moroccan and Polisario controlled zones, on either side of the Berm, in MA#1). Morocco is misrepresenting the situation on the ground in order to persuade the world that its “Autonomy Plan” for Western Sahara is viable. It is not, as it does not address the issue of partition, or of the Sahrawi refugees in Algeria. The information presented here, downloaded from earlier versions of the MINURSO website, clearly contradicts Morocco’s representation of the situation. Rabat is desperate to obscure the situation on the ground, and it seems likely that this is why MINURSO removed the information relating to the terms of the ceasefire, as a result of pressure from Morocco and its allies France and the United States, which are pushing for a normalisation of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara. If this is not the case, all parties should be happy to see this information reinstated – that would be sufficient rebuttal.

Division of Western Sahara under the terms of the 1991 ceasefire agreement. Map from MINURSO.


Co-opting the peacekeepers?

September 16, 2011

Is the United Nations suppressing information to support an illegal occupation?

In September 1991, the United Nations brokered a ceasefire between Morocco and the Frente Polisario, the two claimants to the disputed Non-Self Governing Territory of Western Sahara. Morocco and the Polisario had been fighting a war for control over the territory since 1975, when Morocco sent troops and civilians into Western Sahara during its “Green March”, the aim of which was to establish the former Spanish colony as part of a greater Morocco.

As part of the ceasefire, the UN established the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (known by its French acronym, MINURSO), a peacekeeping force mandated with monitoring the ceasefire and overseeing a referendum on self-determination for Western Sahara. Some 20 years on, the referendum has still not been held, and there seems little prospect that the ongoing political conflict between Morocco and the Polisario over the status of Western Sahara will be resolved in the foreseeable future.

Currently, Western Sahara is effectively partitioned, with Morocco controlling the bulk (some three quarters) of Western Sahara, and the Polisario controlling the remainder. The Moroccan and Polisario controlled areas are separated by a series of earthworks (variously referred to as the “wall”, “sand wall” or “berm”), constructed by Morocco to secure the territory it has gained through military means during the course of its occupation of Western Sahara.

Under the terms of the ceasefire, a number of zones or areas were defined, and permitted activities inside each area were specified. And this is the crux of this particular blog post.

The various areas defined under the ceasefire, and the activities permitted in each area, were detailed in Military Agreement No. 1 (MA#1) and on Map No: A4-010 (deployment of MINURSO). The text of MA#1, and Map No: A4-010, used to be available via MINURSO’s mission website and local website, located easily by clicking on the links on the latter site’s side bar.

And so back to that crux.

You may have noted the use of the past tense in the above text – these key ceasefire documents “used to be available” via the MINURSO websites. Since at least as early as December 2010, MA#1 and Map No: A4-010 have disappeared from the MINURSO local website (and are not available via the mission website). Given that MINURSO’s principal task (the long-delayed referendum notwithstanding) is to monitor the ceasefire, it seems somewhat bizarre that their website does not include the information on the different ceasefire zones and the permitted activity in each of these zones. This is obviously not simply due to sloppy website maintenance – the MINURSO website has been given a pretty comprehensive overhaul in the past year or so, and now contains lots of information and links to relevant documentation, mostly UN resolutions and letters from the UN Secretary General and the Security Council.

Back in 2010 I contacted MINURSO by email (minursoinformationofficer@un.org) to ask why the detailed information on the ceasefire arrangements had been removed, and where it could be found. This was followed by emails to other public information personnel at the UN who were concerned with Western Sahara. However, I never received a reply to these emails. When I followed this up informally with a UN source, their response was this. “Somehow I doubt, in present circumstances, that you will get a reply from the mission, or at least a reply that will be of any use.” When I asked my source whether they were able to elaborate on why a reply was unlikely “in the present circumstances”, and what these circumstances were, they replied “Not really”. This correspondence took place in early December 2010.

So, why the removal of important information relating to the nature of the ceasefire, and why the lack of response to an inquiry about its removal? And why the secrecy? I’m certainly prepared to speculate – here goes.

There currently seems to be no resolution in sight to the Western Sahara conflict. This has frustrated key players within the UN and internationally. As detailed in Stephen Zunes’ and Jacob Mundy’s recent, and excellent, book, Western Sahara: War, Nationalism and Conflict Irresolution, key members of the UN security council (France and the United States) have long been enthusiastic (to say the least) in their support of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara. In the amoral world of realpolitik, these countries in particular view the integration of Western Sahara into a greater Morocco as a practical solution to the conflict. Accordingly, they support Morocco’s “Autonomy Plan”, which would make Western Sahara part of Morocco and give it some token limited autonomy under a partially devolved administration rubber stamped or appointed by the Moroccan monarchy. I’ve written elsewhere about why this “solution” is dubious at best (also here).

So what has this got to do with the information on MINURSO’s website? Well, first we need to recognise that the UN and its various agencies are not independent bodies, but are expressions of the will of the UN’s member states. Particular UN agencies will be of particular interest to certain countries (e.g. those that provide their funding), and these countries will have an influence over their behaviour. Powerful voices within the UN lobby for their own interests and those of their friends, making the UN a forum in which key players compete with each other for dominance and advantage according to their own agendas. In short, UN agencies are subject to influence from powerful interests, and there is no reason to believe that MINURSO is any different.

Second, the ready availability of information on the terms of the ceasefire is an embarrassment to Morocco and, by extension, to those countries who support Morocco in its continuing (and illegal) occupation of Western Sahara. Morocco likes to give the impression that it controls all of Western Sahara, and that all that needs to be done to resolve the conflict is for the international community to accept Morocco’s claim to the territory. The Moroccan line is that Morocco has already achieved de facto integration of Western Sahara, making its control over the territory a done deal – if only the international community would accept this “fact on the ground” the problem would go away.

The Moroccan line is disingenuous, and its Autonomy Plan does nothing to address the partition of Western Sahara or the issue of the Sahrawi refugees displaced by the conflict and living in camps near the Algerian town of Tindouf. The airing of these issues makes the Autonomy Plan look rather flaky and inadequate, and exposes the Plan as a PR exercise to legitimise the occupation rather than a serious, sincere and workable way of resolving the conflict. Under the Autonomy Plan the territory would remain partitioned (or be subject to further fighting as Morocco sought to control all of Western Sahara), and the refugees would remain in exile (Morocco constantly underplays the number of refugees and is unlikely to welcome them as new subjects). The Plan would also fail to uphold the right of self determination enshrined in so many UN resolutions relating to Western Sahara.

Consequently, it is in Morocco’s interests to manipulate information relating to the conflict in order to marginalise the refugee issue and cloud the issue of partition. Morocco’s propagandists have a habit of telling people that the Polisario does not control any territory in Western Sahara, and that what the Polisario and the exiled Sahrawi refer to as the (Polisario controlled) “Free Zone” is in fact a “buffer zone” set up with the tacit approval of the UN to keep the Polisario out of “Moroccan” territory. This is nonsense. There is a “Buffer Strip” under the ceasefire, but this extends only 5 km east and south of the Berm or sand wall into the Polisario controlled areas. On either side of the Berm, a “Restricted Area” extends for 30 km. On both sides of the Berm, the remaining areas are defined as “Areas with Limited Restrictions”. With the exception of the Buffer Strip, which is present only on the Polisario side of the Berm, there is parity in terms of what the Moroccan armed forces and the Polisario are permitted to do on their respective sides of the Berm.

The above is all set out in MA#1, a reading of which reveals that Morocco’s claims (i) to control all of Western Sahara, (ii) that the Polisario has no active or legitimate presence in the territory, and (iii) that the areas in which Polisario might operate are in fact a buffer zone set up for Morocco’s benefit, are all nonsense. Unfortunately, now that MINURSO has removed MA#1 and Map No:A4-010, it is much less straightforward to challenge Rabat’s nonsense using authoritative sources. Well, I say unfortunately, but this is, of course, rather fortunate for Morocco and its friends.

And this is what is really suspicious. The most likely explanation for the removal of this basic, vital and (to the Moroccan camp) embarrassing information seems to be that Morocco and its friends have leaned on MINURSO to remove this information, in order to eliminate a counter to a key pillar of Morocco’s propaganda campaign. If there is a more innocent explanation, why has MINURSO been so reluctant to provide it. Unless they can allay fears that they have been co-opted by Morocco’s propaganda machine, perhaps we should be renaming them the MINUPOSO – United Nations Mission for the Perpetuation of the Occupation in Western Sahara.


Interrogating the occupation

June 25, 2008

Last night I ventured into Westminster to attend the UK launch of Professor Abdelhamid El Ouali’s argument for Morocco’s Autonomy Plan for Western Sahara, in the form of a book entitled Saharan Conflict: Towards Territorial Autonomy as a Right to Democratic Self-Determination (see an earlier entry). The launch was held in the Houses of Parliament, presumably a symbolic choice meant to emphasise the democratic nature of the Autonomy Plan (a link made by the professor in his speech). In brief, the autonomy plan provides for limited self-determination for the disputed territory of Western Sahara within a greater Morocco, while precluding the possibility of full independence for the territory.

It was a fairly low-key affair. Most of the audience consisted of Moroccans, including the ambassador to the UK (apparently not the one who complained to the Foreign Office about my academic activities in 2004), and a fair few embassy staff. Lord someone-or-other introduced Professor El Ouali, but apart from that members of the Commons and Lords were conspicuous by their absence. One or two civil servants (one of whom apparently advised the UK government on rendition), a previous British Ambassador to Rabat, less than a handful of journalists, and a few others with regional interests were also present. Representatives of the publishers, Stacey International, were also there, overseeing sales of the book (£16.95 – no sign of it on Amazon yet).

I went hoping to raise some concerns about the autonomy plan in the question and answer session that I assumed would follow a comprehensive presentation. However, I was disappointed. Professor El Ouali gave a short, fairly informal talk, the gist of which was that times had changed and we had to deal with new realities, independence was no longer relevant or appropriate as an option, autonomy was all about building democracy and securing human rights, and the fact that things weren’t panning out as they should was all down to those awkward Algerians. No mention was made of Polisario. Immediately after his talk, we were invited to enjoy the hospitality (wine, soft drinks, no nibbles), buy the book, and mingle. There was no opportunity for questions or discussion.

Determined not to waste my six hour round trip to the Mother of Parliaments, I duly joined the queue of embassy staff and autonomy sympathisers eagerly lining up to have their copies signed. After a while being bypassed by the queue of admirers, I took my chance to introduce myself to Professor El Ouali and ask the question that has been bothering me for some time.

The question in question is, what is the plan for the Polisario-controlled areas of Western Sahara (i.e. the “Free Zone”) under the autonomy proposal? Are these to be left as a rump Sahrawi state, or will Morocco attempt to complete its acquisition of Western Sahara by force, risking further regional instability and conflict? The professor answered that the autonomy plan could only be implemented if it had the agreement of all the parties to the conflict, including the Polisario.

So far, so good. However, he then went on to say (I’m paraphrasing, but this is a pretty faithful rendition) “You’re talking about the ‘Liberated Territories’ – this is a myth. Polisario has never liberated any of this land. it is a buffer zone set up by Morocco.” Needless to say I pointed out to him that I run a research project in these very territories, and work with the Polisario in this context. Having travelled extensively in the Polisario-controlled areas (Lajuad, Mijek, Tifariti, Zug, you name it), I’m fully aware that the “buffer zone” is a face-saving Moroccan flim-flam, a story concocted to conceal the reality that Western Sahara is in fact already partitioned between the two warring parties.

My unmasking as someone from “the other side” seemed to cause some discomfort, but to his credit the Professor regained his composure and suggested that we talk at greater length later on, which we duly did (after he’d apparently checked up on me with his embassy colleagues – apparently both I and this blog are quite familiar to them, so ahlan wa sahlan if you’re reading).

In our subsequent discussion, Professor El Ouali was very keen to persuade me of the value of the autonomy plan, and of both his sincerity and his credentials (as someone who has worked extensively with refugees and at a high level in UNHCR). He, and some of the other Moroccans there, said that they were very keen on the idea of finding common ground and real, practical, and just solutions to the conflict. I even received an invitation to explore the issue at greater length in Morocco – flattering given that when it comes to politics I’m not exactly anyone’s representative, just a blogger with a point of view and some relevant travel experience.

On the surface this is all very encouraging, and the Moroccans I spoke to all gave the impression that they were keen to find common ground to resolve the conflict (and they were all very personable and friendly, in stark contrast to some of their compatriots who haunt the blogosphere). However, I’m very, very sceptical as to how much will there really is in the Moroccan establishment to find a real solution to the Western Sahara conflict.

Professor El Ouali kindly gave me a copy of his book, and I will make good on my promise to read it. Time permitting, I might even write a review. Having had a quick flick through it, I have to say that I don’t disagree with everything he writes. For example, I concur with his comments about globalisation. However, I think we will continue to disagree about the autonomy plan, for the reasons outlined below. What follows is a general argument about autonomy, not a response to the particulars of Professor El Ouali’s book. However, the argument does hark back to his comments about the nature of the Polisario-controlled areas.

The existence of the Free Zone and of the exiled Sahrawi refugees in the camps around Tindouf together represent a very serious stumbling block to the autonomy plan, under which there seem to be three broad possible outcomes (assuming the plan is to go ahead):

i. Polisario, with the support of the exiled Sahrawi community, voluntarily gives up the Free Zone so that it can become part of an autonomous Saharan region within a greater Morocco. The refugees return home and everyone lives happily ever after. A problem with this scenario is that, even if Morocco granted the refugees the right of return, it’s far from certain that they would want to take it (1). Furthermore, does Morocco really want all those potentially troublesome Sahrawi nationalists flooding back into an autonomous Saharan province, where they may well form a majority of the population? I hear that for all the infrastructure development that is going on in the occupied territories, no plans have been laid to build homes for returning refugees. I don’t think the Moroccans are expecting them back any time soon.

ii. The autonomy plan is implemented, but only in the regions currently occupied by Morocco. The Free Zone is left as a rump Sahrawi state under the control of the Polisario or whatever form of government may evolve among the exiled Sahrawi community. Refugees settle in the Free Zone to the extent that resources (principally water) permit. Whether the Free Zone could support some 160,000 people is debatable. If the Free Zone was settled, Morocco would have to live with a Sahrawi state full of disgruntled inhabitants who would still hanker after their old homeland across the border. This, presumably, is not on the Moroccan agenda. Under this scenario the autonomy plan would merely crystalise the current situation, and might increase tension in the region over the long term.

iii. Morocco extends its control throughout the entire territory of Western Sahara by invading the Free Zone. This would result in conflict with the Polisario, possible conflict with Algeria, and could destabilise the Maghreb as a whole.

Of course there is a fourth option – that the implementation of the autonomy plan depends of the agreement of all the parties to the conflict, that this is not forthcoming, and, er, nothing happens. At the moment this seems to be the most likely outcome, at least in the short term. So what exactly is the purpose of the plan?

The autonomy plan is predicated on two fictions. First, that Western Sahara is simply a part of Morocco with a troublesome secessionist movement, when in reality it is a partially occupied territory that has been partitioned between Morocco and the Polisario. Second, that the refugees in the camps around Tindouf would be happy, and welcome, to return to their homeland as Moroccan subjects. While the proponents of the plan are presumably aware of these problems, they are never addressed, suggesting that the plan does not represent a serious attempt to resolve the conflict. It is the view of this blogger that the autonomy plan is a stalling tactic designed to defuse criticism of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, and to discredit the Polisario (2). It seems to be the latest ruse via which Morocco seeks to avoid the holding of a referendum, while appearing to act constructively on the issue. It may seem like a solution to those not familiar with the realities of partition, which is why Morocco tries so hard to play down the existence of the Free Zone, and consistently underestimates the number, and misrepresents the aspirations, of the Sahrawi refugees in the Tindouf camps. I look forward to finding out if these issues are addressed in Professor El Ouali’s book, but I won’t be holding my breath as I turn the pages.

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Notes

(1) I’ve often heard from Moroccan sources that the refugees are held in the camps against their will by the Polisario, that they are effectively Moroccan citizens (well, subjects) being held as hostages by a secessionist group, and that they would welcome the opportunity to return to the Moroccan homeland. The truth is somewhat different. The exiles are in the camps as the result of the Moroccan invasion and occupation of Western Sahara (they weren’t kidnapped from their homes by marauding Polisario snatch teams). They are more-or-less free to leave subject to having the right paperwork (as citizens of any country who are lucky enough to have a passport are free to leave their national territories). Sahrawi from the camps travel widely, and they are a pretty cosmopolitan bunch as a result. Many have studied abroad, and international exchanges with solidarity groups in a variety of countries are common. When rains in the Free Zone are good, some of the inhabitants of the camps take their camels there for pasture. So, whatever their flaws and democratic deficits, the camps are not prisons with Polisario troops acting as gaolers. The exiled Sahrawi that I’ve spoken to certainly want to return to Western Sahara, but they do not want to live under Moroccan sovereignty. In their decades in the camps, the exiled Sahrawi have developed a strong sense of national identity. It seems to me that they are more inclined to return to Western Sahara with Kalashnikovs, to attempt to liberate it, than they are to return to live as Moroccan subjects.

(2) As long as the Polisario refused to entertain the possibility of the full integration of Western Sahara into Morocco, Morocco accepted the idea of a referendum with options of full integration, limited autonomy within a greater Morocco, and full independence. However, the Polisario eventually agreed to a referendum including these three options. Having had its bluff called, Morocco rapidly went off the idea – presumably Rabat suffered from a sudden loss of confidence that the Sahrawi (and perhaps even Moroccan settlers in Western Sahara) would vote to be part of the Moroccan motherland.


An unfortunate choice of words

February 28, 2008

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[1] 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).

 

[1] 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.


Bad company

February 5, 2008

This story broke while I was away, so is old news here in the UK. However, I couldn’t resist a quick post to highlight that the Derek Conway who proposed a deliberately deceptive Early Day Motion in the UK Parliament in favour of Morocco’s autonomy plan is the same Derek Conway that now faces fraud investigations after being sacked by his party for using public funds to “employ” family members. Conway apparently paid his two sons £77,000 of UK taxpayers’ money over three years for “work” that they appear not have undertaken. It is said that a man can be known by the company he keeps. When it comes to Conway and his buddies in Rabat, this dictum appears to work both ways.

I don’t know if Conway’s relationship with the Moroccan government extends to financial remuneration – one wonders what motivated him to propose the EDM in favour of normalising Morocco’s occupation, if not some sort of financial reward. Perhaps he could have paid his sons in Dirhams and saved himself a lot of bother. He wouldn’t be the first foreign political figure to have been bought by the Moroccan state. After publishing a glowing analysis of the king’s fine new clothes (i.e. the Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara), by ex US ambassador to Rabat Frederick Vreeland, the New York Times felt obliged to publish an Editor’s Note pointing out that Vreeland was chairman of a company that had contracts with the Moroccan government. I’m sure there will be many more such unmaskings as Morocco steps up its propaganda campaign with the help of its western stooges.


UK Parliament moves towards normalisation of Moroccan occupation

October 17, 2007

A Conservative MP in the UK parliament is proposing an Early Day Motion (EDM) in support of Morocco’s Autonomy Plan for Western Sahara (see end of post for the EDM). In essence this means endorsing Morocco’s partial occupation of Western Sahara, a move that is more likely to destabilise the Maghreb than it is to bring peace and security to the region. If you are in the UK and are worried about this development, you might want to write to your MP. Most MPs will know little or nothing about the Western Sahara conflict, and many will believe that by supporting this “solution” they are doing something positive and sensible. They are wrong. Below is the text of a letter I have sent to my MP, Charles Clarke. Please feel free to modify this text and send it to your MP, or to write your own letter. You can find out who your MP is and write to them using the following website: http://www.writetothem.com. You can find out whether or not your MP has signed this motion here. Don’t let your MP be turned into a Moroccan lackey!

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Dear Charles Clarke

It has come to my attention that an EDM (see below) is being proposed in support of Morocco’s “Autonomy Plan” for Western Sahara, by Conservative MP Derek Conway. This is a worrying development, as the Moroccan plan precludes any referendum on full independence for Western Sahara, which it invaded in 1975 and which it has partially occupied ever since. The United Nations and the vast majority of governments have always maintained that a solution to the conflict in Western Sahara should be based on the principle of self determination. Morocco and its supporters argue that the Autonomy Plan provides for self determination within a greater Morocco, but the Polisario independence movement and the majority of Sahrawi argue that self determination must allow for full independence. Morocco has presented its plan as a way forward in solving the territorial dispute, whereas it is in fact a means of obtaining endorsement of its invasion of Western Sahara, and normalisation of its occupation. The Polisario is prepared to allow a referendum which gives the people of Western Sahara the option of independence, limited autonomy as part of a greater Morocco, or full integration into Morocco, in stark contrast to Morocco’s refusal to consider independence as an option. Despite this, Polisario is being portrayed as an obstacle to a solution by Morocco and its growing list of international allies. Mr Conway refers to the Polisario as “separatists”. However, Western Sahara has never been part of Morocco, and this label is therefore entirely inappropriate. The real obstacle to peace in the region is Morocco’s intransigence and long refusal to act in either the spirit or letter of United Nations resolutions on Western Sahara.

Mr Conway may believe that he is helping to promote a solution to this long-running conflict, and he may have persuaded the 121 signatories to this EDM that this approach is both morally and practically sensible. However, it is neither. By endorsing the Moroccan Autonomy Plan, the UK will be legitimising Moroccan expansionism, and endorsing oppression and widespread human rights abuses. Implementation of the Autonomy Plan will not end the partition of Western Sahara, a partition of which few are aware, believing wrongly that Morocco occupies the entire territory. Morocco only occupies about two thirds of the territory, with the remainder being under the control of the Polisario. The Autonomy Plan will not solve the problem of the 160,000 – 200,000 refugees (higher than the figure admitted by Morocco and its allies) mouldering in camps in the Algerian desert – I doubt Morocco would want up to 200,000 pro-independence returnees to go back the territory from which it expelled them and their parents and grandparents.

Endorsing the Autonomy Plan will not make the region more stable or secure. Far from it. There is already an appetite for renewal of the armed independence struggle among the exiled Sahrawi, which the Polisario leadership is doing its best to contain. By removing the prospect of independence and a return home, endorsement of the Autonomy Plan would increase the likelihood of conflict in the region. The result would be a rump Sahrawi state (in the one third of Western Sahara that is under Polisario control) inhabited by angry, armed, pro-independence Sahrawi with nothing to lose, who feel they have been betrayed by the international community. I speak from experience as I work and travel regularly in the Polisario-run “Free Zone”, and am a regular visitor the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria.

If Mr Conway’s EDM is successful, it will only help to destabilise the Maghreb and parts of the Sahel, and will make conflict in the region more likely. There will be further humanitarian crises and perhaps an increase in refugee numbers. Algeria and Morocco will suffer internal destabilisation, and relations between Morocco and Algeria will deteriorate. This will have a negative impact on the regional economy and on poverty in this already troubled region. The risk of radicalising young Sahrawi is considerable, and any conflict will provide a context in which terrorism outside of the Sahrawi population can flourish.

I urge you and your colleagues to oppose this motion, not only on moral and ethical grounds, but also for the sake of stability and security in the Maghreb, and indeed in Europe. If Mr Conway’s EDM is successful it will be a disaster for the Maghreb, for Europe, and for Britain’s reputation as an honest broker which supports the right of people across the globe to self determination and freedom from oppression.

Yours sincerely

Dr Nicholas Brooks

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EDM 1465

WESTERN SAHARA INITIATIVE

15.05.2007

Conway, Derek

That this House notes and supports United Nations Resolution 1754 adopted by the Security Council on 30th April 2007; welcomes the initiative by the Kingdom of Morocco to grant substantial autonomy to the Western Sahara offering an opportunity to peacefully resolve separatists claims by guaranteeing to all Sahrawis inside and outside the territory a leading role in the bodies and institutions of the region whilst recognising Morocco’s sovereign integrity; and urges the Government to encourage all parties to respond to UN endeavours to establish an enduring solution to this geopolitical dispute of three decades duration.

Signatures: 121
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