Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘SADR’

Don’t Forget the Western Sahara

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 1st November, 2011

I spent the weekend at a spa hotel outside Algiers at the Second International Solidarity Conference with the Sahraoui people, which drew two or three hundred participants from countries as diverse as Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Ethiopia, France, Lebanon, Mexico, Namibia, Russia, South Africa and Tunisia. The Algerian TV and other media wee there in force, as the Algerian government has been the firmest friend of the Western Sahara and its independence movement, the Polisario, since Morocco ocupied the phosphate-rich western half of the territory after it ceased to be a Spanish colony. It is often wrongly said that Namibia was the final African country to gain independence, whereas actually the Sahraouis have been struggling for theirs for nearly 40 years — almost as long as the Palestinians. The Sahraoui Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), as the Western Sahara is formally known, is a full member of the African Union and has been recognised by a growing number of countries round the world, though not as yet by Britain. I shall be arguing that Britain should raise the status of the Polisario representation in London to that of an Embassy — as HMG has already done for the Palestinians — which would be an important step towards statehood. There have been numerous UN resolutions about the Sahraouis’ right to self-determination, but the Moroccans have dragged their feet for many years, thereby preventing a referendum of the people of the territory that is meant to settle the issue one way or the other. Libeal Democrats (and the old Liberal Party before) have had longstanding relations with the Westen Sahara; the late Chris (Earl of) Winchilsea was a particularly active campaigner and organiser of aid to the Sahraoui refugee camps deep in the Algerian desert. And I was pleased that LibDem MEPs — not least Andrew Duff — recently opposed the renewal of the EU fisheries agreement with Morocco because it also covers the waters off the Western Sahara. Indeed, the Coalition government has taken a more progressive line on related issues than its Labour predecessor did, but it still has the task of standing up to France in the European context, as the French are staunch supporters of Morocco and its colonial occupation. But standing up to the French is something Brits have often done rather well in the past, so perhaps on this issue we should return to our traditions!


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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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