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Africa’s last colony

Western Sahara fights on for independence

Published Nov 21, 2010 8:09 PM

Thousands of people demonstrated in Madrid, Spain, on Nov. 13 in response to a Nov. 8 massacre carried out by Moroccan security forces in a displaced person’s camp at Laayoune, Western Sahara, in northwest Africa. Dozens of Sahawari people were killed, and up to 4,500 injured in the massacre.

A former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1975, the Western Sahara has been a hotly contested zone for nearly three decades since the Polisario Front, a national liberation movement, took up arms to drive out occupiers of their territory.

Members of the National Coordination of Associations in Solidarity with Sahara, which organized the Madrid demonstration, accused the Spanish government of ignoring Morocco’s crimes. Leaders of the two main Spanish labor unions joined the demonstrations. (allAfrica.com, Nov. 13)

Although the Spanish government demanded an immediate explanation from Morocco, the massacre has been largely hidden from the international media due to the exclusion of journalists from areas surrounding the camp. According to Radio France International, only reporters from Le Monde and Le Figaro have been granted permission to enter.

On Nov. 10, Moroccan authorities said that the country’s security forces had detained 163 Saharawi people. However, the Polisario Front claimed that more than 2,000 people were arrested and that the Moroccan security forces had attacked others in Smara, some 240 kilometers east of Laayoune.

The massacre at Laayoune took place almost simultaneously with U.N. talks between representatives of the Polisario Front and the Moroccan government. The Moroccan government presented plans to grant the Saharawi people autonomy, while the Polisario Front demanded a national referendum on full self-determination and independence. No agreement was reached and the parties decided to continue discussions in December.

Morocco is a monarchy located in northwest Africa. Since the early days of its independence from Spain, it has had close ties with the United States. Morocco was the first country in the world to recognize the former North American British colonies after their war of independence during the 1770s and early 1780s.

The South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation, in a Nov. 14 statement, urged all parties involved to work out “a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution that will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.” (BuaNews (Tshwane), Nov. 14) Led by the African National Congress, the government of the Republic of South Africa has been a longtime supporter and ally of the Polisario Front and its provisional government.

Historical background

In 1884 the Berlin Conference convened to divide up the African continent among the various colonial and imperialist powers of Western Europe. The Conference recognized Spain’s colonial control over the Western Sahara region, where various Indigenous groups have lived for centuries.

During the height of the African liberation movement in 1963, the U.N. Special Committee on Decolonization declared that Western Sahara deserved independence. Two years later, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution requesting that Spain decolonize the territory.

In December 1966, the General Assembly requested that Spain organize a national referendum within Western Sahara on the future of the colonized nation. Spain’s refusal to honor these resolutions, coupled with the Saharawi people’s growing independence demands, prompted the masses in 1973 to initiate the Frente Para la Liberación de Saguia el-Hamra y Río de Oro (Polisario). Formed in Zouerate, Mauritania, Polisario’s sole purpose was liberating the country.

In 1975, Spain, Mauritania and Morocco signed the Madrid Accords, in which Spain agreed to relinquish administrative control over Western Sahara to Morocco and Mauritania. In December of that same year Morocco sent troops to Laayoune, where fighting erupted between them and the Polisario Front.

In 1976 Spain officially withdrew from its colonial outposts in the Western Sahara, and the Polisario Front established the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic. Fighting raged during the remaining years of the decade, with Mauritania withdrawing any claims to the territory in 1979.

The SADR applied for formal membership in the Organization of African Unity in 1980 and was granted this request in February 1982. In 1984, Morocco withdrew its membership from the OAU in protest.

In 1991, a ceasefire agreement was signed between the Polisario Front and Morocco, with the understanding that a national referendum would be held on Western Saharan independence. Nonetheless, fighting continued sporadically.

Morocco, which is heavily backed by the U.S. and other imperialist states along with Israel, has refused to hold the promised referendum. Even under international law, the Saharawi people have the right to self-determination and full political independence.

Imperialists ignore plight of Saharawi people

The Australia Western Sahara Association has pointed out the underlying reason behind the continued occupation: “Western Sahara is rich in mineral resources, including phosphate mineral rock, which Australia imports, contrary to international law. Western Sahara has one of the best fishing grounds in the world. Currently its offshore oil resources are being explored.” (awsa.org.au)

In a visit to Morocco in November, U.S. Congressperson Keith Ellison of Minnesota stated that relations between Rabat, the capital of Morocco, and Washington could not be better. Ellison noted that the U.S. had “a lot of faith and confidence in the Moroccan people and I have no doubt that Moroccans can produce world-class goods and services and compete with anybody in the world, including the U.S.” (Maghreb Arab Press, Nov. 12)

The continued occupation of Western Sahara territory by Morocco, supported by the imperialist states, should attract the attention of anti-imperialists.