Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Lamine Baali’

Aminatou Haidar’s Right to Be Free

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th December, 2009

Yesterday was International Human Rights Day and as I walked across Trafalgar Square at luncthime from the pomp and ceremony of the Vin d’Honneur for the new South African High Commissioner at South Africa House to a similar event for the new Czech Ambassador at the Athenaeum in Pall Mall, I passed by two human rights demonstrations outside the National Gallery. The first was by people protesting about the People’s Republic of China’s oppression of followers of Fa Lun Gong, while the second highlighted the case of Aminatou Haidar, the Sahrawi human rights campaigner who is on hunger strike at an airport in the Canary Islands. By coincidence, Lamine Baali, the Polisario representative in London had cornered me about her case at the South African reception. Then this moning I was pleased to see a related comment piece by Paul Laverty and Ken Loach in The Guardian. For those who are not familiar with the case, Ms Haidar was prevented from returning to her home town of Layoun in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara on her way back from receiving an award in the United States because she refused to fill in her nationality as ‘Moroccan’ on her landing card. She was thus deported to the Canary Islands are is staging her protest to be allowed to return to her family, but as a proud Sahrawi.

Morocco and Mauritania occupied the Western Sahara after Spain left its former colony in the mid-1970s, though later the Mauritanians were defeated by the Polisario Sahrawi fighters and withdrew, leaving the territory divided (literally, by an earth wall). I slept under the stars in the desert there the night I heard on the BBC World Service of Nelson Mandela’s release from jail in South Africa in 1990. It would be wonderful if tonight I could hear of Aminatou Haidar’s safe return, as her hunger strike is taking its toll. Meanwhile, the Spanish (for all their concerns not to offend the Moroccans) really must accept their moral responsibility to get this matter resolved.

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Western Sahara Still Unresolved

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 8th August, 2008

The Polisario’s UK representative, Lamine Baali, came for lunch yesterday. He arrived just two weeks ago, though this is actually his second London posting. He spent the intervening dozen years based in Stockholm. In the interim, much in Britain has changed. John Major’s Conservatives have been replaced by New Labour, though now it is Gordon Brown’s government that gives the impression of being on its last legs. In contrast, the situation regarding the Western Sahara remains depressingly the same.

For nearly 30 years now it has figured on the United Nations list of Non-Self Governing Territories — the last unresolved major territorial dispute in Africa. Morocco occupies the better half of what used to be the Spanish Sahara — and has been settling it with migrants from further north — while the Polisario control the desert rest. However, the bulk of the Sahrawi population who support the Polisario’s campaign for independence live in refugee camps in the Algerian desert, as they have done for a generation, currently suffering from intense heat and drought.

I visited the Polisario camps in 1990 and travelled by jeep and camel in their part of what they call the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). Lawrence of Arabia would have felt at home there. I was woken one morning by a camel nuzzling my ear as I lay on the ground, and I heard about Nelson Mandela’s release from prison on the World Service of the BBC while I was there. I even climbed over the wall that the Moroccans built right through the territory, in order to keep Polisario fighters out of their occupied zone. These are some of my most vibrant memories of my time as a foreign correspondent. But I find it infinitely depressing that nearly 20 years later, the issue of the Western Sahara’s future still has not been resolved, and the referendum promised to the Sahrawi people so they can exercise self-determination still seems no more than a distant mirage.


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