Saturday, November 19, 2005

Interesting bits of history to get you started - #2

The Guardian's Ian Black offered a thorough summary of the history of the Western Sahara conflict last week, well worth reading. It's mostly on target except there are a few problems:
".. November 1975, when King Hassan of Morocco launched his famous Green March to occupy the gravel desert that had been evacuated by Spain after nearly a century [of colonialism] ..."
Not quite right. The Green March was launched precisely to drive Spain out. Faced with the prospect of having to kill riled up Moroccan civilians bent on a jingoist "jihad" (Hassan's word) in November 1975, Madrid opted to abandon the territory to King Hassan. Spain didn't formally leave until February 1976.
"But some 150,000 refugees, including those who fled the 1975 invasion and their descendants, remain to this day in grim refugee camps at Tindouf..."
That's the official number -- provided by Algeria. The real number is probably closer to 90,000, maybe as high as 110,000, but not much more. Only 40,000 persons from the refugee camps qualified to vote in the referendum, so either 3/4 of the population was less than 18 years old in 1994 or Algeria and Polisario have been inflating the numbers. Both have refused to hold a census in the camps and the UN World Food Program has unilaterally cut the aid from 155,000 persons to 90,000 recently without providing justification for the reduction.
"In 2003 a UN plan proposed to give the Sahara autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty pending a referendum, a position which Polisario reluctantly accepted even though it fell far short of its demand for full independence. Morocco rejected the plan.
Intense haggling over precisely who is eligible to vote underlines the view that Morocco cannot risk a free vote it knows it would lose."
Morocco officially rejected the 2003 Baker plan because it contained the option of independence after the 5 year autonomy period, saying that its 'territorial integrity' will not be put to a vote. (The Polisario and Algeria, on the other hand, reject anything that doesn't contain an independence option, which they claim is a part of self-determination.) Under the 2003 Baker plan, the majority Moroccan settlers (120,000 versus 110,000 indigenous Saharans) would be allowed to vote, which should have resolved the 'voter eligibility' issues for Morocco. So Morocco's real problem is that it doesn't even trust its own settlers to vote for integration. In a country where at least 75% of the population wants to emigrate, Rabat's fears are probably well founded.


P.S. Here's a letter from the UK-based Western Sahara Campaign in the Guardian in response to Black's article:
"End this neglected injustice: More international pressure must be put on Morocco over its occupation of the Western Sahara, says Carne Ross"

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