Interview. We spoke with Sahrawi independence leader Brahim Ghali about the negotiations in Geneva this week. ‘After six years of attempts by the UN to organize a round of negotiations and Morocco’s constant refusals, it must be stressed just how important the Geneva conference is. Morocco has finally agreed to sit down and speak directly with the Polisario Front.’

Sahrawis get Morocco to the table, but Polisario leader tells us it’s only a start

Moroccan separatists and the government, along with Algeria and Mauritania as observer countries, are meeting in Geneva on Wednesday and Thursday for a round-table meeting on the fate of Western Sahara.

The meeting brings the Polisario Front and Morocco to the same negotiating table for the first time since 2012 for direct talks centered on the issue of the organization of a referendum for the “self-determination of the people of Western Sahara,” called for by the UN Resolution 2440 adopted in late October.

The initiative is promoted by the Personal Envoy of the Secretary General of the UN, Horst Kohler, and supported by most of the countries on the Security Council, after the recent extension of the MINURSO peacekeeping mission until April 2019.

The summit seemed like an impossible task until a few months ago, given that Morocco has always been much more inclined to conduct indirect talks, unwilling to give any recognition to the Polisario Front as a negotiating party, while affirming its intentions to accept only a sort of autonomy for Western Sahara, as long as it did not compromise Moroccan “territorial integrity.”

Il manifesto interviewed the President of the SADR (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic) and Secretary General of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, about what one may expect from this conference.

What do you think about this “larger negotiating table”?

After six years of attempts by the UN to organize a round of negotiations and Morocco’s constant refusals, it must be stressed just how important the Geneva conference is. Morocco has finally agreed to sit down and speak directly with the Polisario Front. We see it as a beginning, but it is still early to talk about any breakthrough in the Moroccan position. We will evaluate the situation on a factual basis.

How would you evaluate the activities of UN envoy Horst Kohler this year?

He has done important work. His tours and his contacts with the two parties to the conflict, with observer countries and international actors among the United Nations, the AU and EU, as well as his visits to the occupied areas, all demonstrate his seriousness and credibility.

The UN has recently condemned Morocco for the continued violation of the rights of political prisoners and of Sharawi associations. What is the situation like within the territories occupied by Morocco?

The repressive and systematic behavior of the Moroccan government is growing worse every day, and the situation has not changed much, despite the condemnations and the statements put out by various UN agencies and NGOs. The peaceful resistance of the Sahrawi continues through their Intifada for Independence. Rabat continues to maintain a military checkpoint in the occupied areas of Western Sahara, where the Moroccan occupation authorities keep committing the most flagrant human rights violations against unarmed civilians, while the massive looting of our natural resources continues. The UN and the international community have not offered a sufficient push in this regard, especially for the release of Sahrawi political prisoners held in Moroccan prisons, particularly those from the demonstrations at the Gdeim Izik protest camp [in 2010].

What is the situation in the refugee camps, after the progressive decrease in humanitarian aid?

The cuts to humanitarian aid are having a dramatic effect on the situation of the refugees, especially with regard to health and nutrition. The Sahrawi Red Crescent has appealed to the international community to prevent a worsening of the crisis. Unfortunately, in many cases this is a premeditated policy, with the aim of putting pressure on our people to abandon their resistance and their legitimate struggle. However, the Sahrawi are standing firm regarding their inalienable right to freedom, independence and their return to a free and sovereign homeland. Paradoxically, this is all happening at the same time that some EU countries, particularly France and Spain, are trying to put pressure on other countries to sign deals with Morocco—agreements which would involve the occupied areas, and which are thus aimed at the plunder of the natural resources of our people, in flagrant contradiction with the recent rulings by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

What is the current political strategy of the Polisario Front to overcome the political stalemate?

It is the same as always: to resist and fight with all the legitimate means at our disposal in order to achieve independence. Our struggle and our peaceful resistance will not cease. Recently, we have also been pursuing a legal battle especially focused on the natural resources. The ECJ put out four key rulings in less than two years, in which it clarified several important points: 1) Morocco and Western Sahara are two distinct and separate countries; 2) Morocco enjoys no sovereignty over Western Sahara; 3) it is illegal to exploit the natural resources of Western Sahara without the express consent of the Sahrawi people, given through its sole and legitimate representative, the Polisario Front; 4) the court has upheld the inalienable right of our people to self-determination. The Sahrawi Republic continues to fulfil its duties and responsibilities at the international level, especially within the African Union, as a founding member and one legitimately recognized by the other member countries. We support the efforts of the United Nations, and we hope that the Security Council will take the necessary measures to put pressure on Morocco, so that they will take part in direct talks without preconditions.

What do you think about the position taken by the United States?

At the moment, we believe it is a positive development that the United States supports the reduction of MINURSO’s mandate to six months instead of a year, and are insisting that the UN mission should do its job, which, as its name indicates, is the organization of the referendum for the self-determination of the Sahrawi people.

In case of willful inaction by Rabat, is the Polisario Front also considering military options?

That is not what we would want, and we will only get to that point if we are forced to by Morocco—as happened on Oct. 31, 1975, when Rabat started its illegal military occupation.

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