25 years after the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by the Polisario Liberation Front, in which the ex-Spanish colony expressed its desire to be an independent republic (Democratic Saraui Arab Republic), rather than be divided between Morocco and Mauritania, the status bequeathed to it by former colonial power, Spain, the status quo is practically the same and the PLF and Morocco are ever nearer to armed conflict. The UNO stipulated that on 31st July, 2000, a referendum should be held in the territory of Western Sahara, for the local Saraui people to determine their future. Such a referendum was not held and the Polisario Liberation Front states that it opposes Morocco’s current policy of colonising the Western Sahara, while a referendum is waiting to be held. Thousands of Moroccans are said to have been sent to the territory to register as local citizens. Eventually, with enough Moroccan citizens surreptitiously introduced into Western Sahara, the demand for local independence will be seriously watered down. The question is how long the Polisario Liberation front will be prepared to accept the situation. In the words of the PLF President Mohammed Abdelaziz: “It is known that Morocco signed the Agreement of Houston with us, under the auspices of the UNO. King Hassan II agreed that the only solution for Western Sahara was a referendum. We know that the new king of Morocco reaffirmed his promise to respect his father’s decisions to sign a referendum on numerous occasions….In reality, the government of Morocco continues to obstruct the peace process and applies pressure on the UNO to adulterate the referendum. At least, Morocco tries to gain time, putting off the referendum indefinitely until people give up”. The PLF recently threatened to take up arms again during the Paris-Dakar Rally and was persuaded not to do so through the efforts and appeals of the international community. Now, however, their demands for a referendum are being taken more seriously, with Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the UNO, declaring a two-month increase for the stay of the UN mission in Western Sahara. With 20,000 fighters under arms, the PLF is still a serious threat to the 100,000-strong Moroccan army, especially in the desert terrain which is so familiar to them. Spain’s hasty exit from its former colony, dividing it between Morocco and Mauritania, without consulting the local population, is an example of the arrogance of western European powers in the 1970s. The problems they sowed, a little all over the world, are still to be resolved.
TIMOTHY BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.RU LISBON