Western Sahara ‘may resume armed conflict against Morocco’

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The Ambassador of the Saharawi Republic to Nigeria, His Excellency Oubi Bachir, has said that Western Sahara may be forced to resume armed hostility against Morocco, if it continues to renege on the agreement to organise the referendum to allow the Saharawi people to decide their destiny.  In this interview with INNOCENT ODOH, he stresses that his country will continue to explore peaceful options according to the United Nations resolutions, calling on the international community to stop the human rights violations perpetrated by Morocco in the occupied territory. Excerpts: 

The historical background
Western Sahara was considered   as a colony since 1963 and there were so many calls from the United Nations (UN) since then when Western Sahara was still under the Spanish colonization, to decolonize the territory by granting the right of self determination of the people and their rights to vote and decide on their destiny.

Spain refused to allow the referendum to take place which forced the Western Sahara to launch their liberation movement, the Polisario front and started the armed struggles against Spanish rule. The Spanish administration later found itself obliged to listen to the international community and to the UN and to listen to the will of the people.

So Spain found itself obliged to implement the UN resolutions and allow the people to vote on the referendum and they made the promise to the UN that by the first half of 1975 they will organise a referendum of self determination in Western Sahara.

But unfortunately, some problems were going on inside Spain, and inside Morocco, which changed the cause of history and put some priorities on the agenda of Spain and additional pressure on Morocco, which motivated them to embark on new colonialist adventure in Western Sahara.
That coincided with Morocco presenting a claim over Western Sahara, saying that Western Sahara, before the Spaniard, came in, was under the sovereignty of Morocco . And they made that case in front of the UN in December 1974 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution in December 1974 asking for two things.

The ICJ ruling
The first was asking the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to issue an advisory and legal opinion about the historic or legal links between Morocco and Mauritania; of course Mauritania also made some claims over the territory of Western Sahara prior to Spanish colonization.
The second thing was that they decided to send a UN fact finding mission to the territory to explore the will of the people in Western Sahara and their stand on those claims by Morocco and Mauritania.

The ICJ ruled on October 16, 1975, denying any sovereignty links between Morocco and Western Sahara prior to the Spanish colonization and calling explicitly to grant the Saharans the right to self determination according to the UN declaration of 1514 in terms of granting the colonised people the right to independence and self determination.

The report of the UN fact finding was issued on October 12 1975,  in its conclusion stated very clearly that the overwhelmingly majority of the people of Western Sahara have identified with the Polisario front, demanding independence and refusing any claims of Morocco and Mauritania over the territory.

So we have three elements of the legal grounds backing the Saharawi aspiration to be independent.  The first one is ICJ ruling, Second is the UN fact finding mission report, and the third is the rule made by the OAU that  inherited boundaries from colonial era should be respected.

The lingering issue of the referendum
On the issue of the referendum, first of all you will recall that according to international law, Western Sahara is a non- self-governing territory considered as the last colony in Africa, so the United Nations (UN) efforts to settle the conflicts in Western Sahara now are done within the framework of decolonization of Western Sahara on the basis of the UN resolutions especially the 1514 resolution of 1960, granting the right of the independence to the colonised people of Western Sahara.

The Morocco’s invasion in Western Sahara
Morocco invaded the territory from the north and Mauritania invaded from the South, the Polisario front, which was then a very young movement of liberation, had to fight on two fronts, Morocco from the north and Mauritania from the South.
And tactically the weakest part in the equation was Mauritania, so the Polisario military concentrated their armed action on Mauritania to get rid of it as soon as possible and that we achieved in 1978 with the coup in Mauritania replacing the civilian regime, and renouncing any involvement in Western Sahara.

Mauritania then signed a peace agreement with the Western Sahara government in 1979, which led to the full establishment of diplomatic relations with Mauritania and recognition of the Sahrawi Republic by Mauritania.
Since then we have concentrated our armed struggle on Morocco.

So in 1991, the king of Morocco Hassan II, made a clear statement in the United Nations General Assembly saying that Morocco is willing to cooperate with the organization of the self determination of the Western Sahara for now and that he will allow the international observers and he will respect the outcome of the referendum.

On the basis  that OAU admitted the Western Sahara as a fully fledged member of the AU in 1984 and they have a joint mission with the UN for peace process, which led to the ceasefire in 1991 and the establishment of a UN mission to organize a referendum for self determination in Western Sahara, which is known as MINURSO, which is now the oldest UN mission in Africa.

The UN was seriously working towards the referendum but Morocco since day one started putting obstacles against the implementation of the referendum, first by bringing in massive numbers, Moroccans settlers from the north and encouraged them to settle in the biggest Western Saharan cities in order to change the demographic reality of the territory, and influencing the final outcome of the referendum.

When they Saharawi noticed that Morocco was making desperate effort to change the demographic configuration of the territory what action did they take?
We drew the attention of the international community to that but you know unfortunately at that time Morocco was having an unconditional support from the US and France.

But for us, the most important is that nobody apart from the Saharawi people will be allowed to vote in that referendum.
From 2002 Morocco said very clearly that they don’t want to cooperate any more on the referendum to settle the conflict because they reached a final conclusion that any genuine democratic consultation of the Sahrawi people will lead to a very clear victory of the option of independence.
They started dragging the international community in a very slow game of trying to generate a sort of diplomatic fatigue within the international community believing   at the end the international community can accept the fait accompli of the Moroccan occupation of that territory.

But we said and we keep on saying, that any final status of the territory in Western Sahara cannot be decided outside the framework of the legal nature of the conflict in Western Sahara, which are a decolonization process and the right of self determination of the people.
The people of Western Sahara as movement of liberation said that our final mission, ultimate mission is to bring the Saharawi people up till a point where they will express freely their view without interference in the process.

On Morocco’s human rights violations
Now a major problem for the international community concerning the Western Sahara is the issue of human right,  the issue of human right is becoming  almost the face of the conflict  nowadays because there are no armed hostilities because of the ceasefire .

So the ordinary civilians in the occupied territory of Western Sahara decided to go into the streets to challenge the Moroccan occupation and asking the international community to honour its engagements, to honour its word to the Saharawi people by organizing the referendum, and they are brutalized, beaten, killed and imprisoned on daily basis.  Unfortunately in many cases all those atrocities are committed just meters from the mission headquarters in Nayun, the occupied capital of Western Sahara.

What we are calling for is that the UN mission in the territory should be given additional mandate apart from supervising the ceasefire to also monitor the human right situation of the Western Sahara but Morocco does not want that because of their violations of human right.
Fortunately for us the US is no longer on the side of Morocco as it used to be, since April last year, the US started seeing this issue of human right violation as something very serious and they made it very clear last year that they want the mission to expand its mandate to include human rights.
It is really very shameful that the UN Secretary went to Rwanda to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the genocide recognizing the lack of interest and the inaction of the UN to stop the genocide from taking place that the same UN is on its way to commit the same mistakes in Western Sahara.

So we really need to learn from the lessons of history that the UN which is now facing the reality of the Rwandan genocide and recognizing its negative role in that is turning its eye from a problem almost of the same nature going on now in Western Sahara.
But we are very confident that we are on the right way and the struggle of the people is a matter that will end only when we meet our objectives
And we are very certain that Western Sahara and the right of the Saharawi people will prevail.

The Western Saharan issue is almost like fading from the international limelight. Why is this?
May be it was the low tension in the Saharawi region that has shifted the focus of the international attention to the conflict. But we think that we still hold the option of resuming the armed struggle.

But the choice for us now is peace. Now the choice remains the peaceful way and we want to exhaust that way and we have been trying to cooperate with the international community honoring all our engagements, giving all the concessions needed for the process to move on but we think that there must be a time limit for that.

What is the role of Nigeria in the self determination of Western Sahara?
What Nigeria is showing in terms of solidarity and sympathy towards the struggle of the people of Western Sahara is only the natural continuation of its own history, and its tradition of being on the side of the oppressed all the time especially in Africa.

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