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
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
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.
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.”
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.
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