The 186 Moroccan prisoners of war handed over to the International Red Cross on 25 February in Tindouf arrived the next day at the military base of Agadir on board a Belgian Airbus. The majority had been held for at least 20 years. 85 of them had been already liberated in April 1997, on the occasion of the visit of J. Baker, but Morocco refused their repatriation. The ICRC pointed out that there are still 1,686 Moroccan prisoners of war in captivity, and that it has been able to visit them regularly and supply them with medication and mail from their families. (agences, CICR).
Congress of the General Union of Saharawi Workers
Mohamed Cheikh M'Ghaizlat has been elected as the new secretary general of UGTSARIO. He will hold office for 5 years, succeeding Cheibani Abbas. The congress adopted a certain number of resolutions formulated in committees concerning the functioning and the role of the affiliated trade unions.(SPS)
24th Anniversary of SADR
The Saharawi population in the occupied territories, as those in the liberated zones, celebrated the 24th anniversary of SADR. During a gathering in the wilaya of Smara, Mohamed Abdelaziz made an pledge to pursue the struggle for national independence and launched an appeal to the King of Morocco to "wipe out effects of the past together, hand in hand, to avoid the pangs of war". The Arab Maghreb can only be constructed if the Saharawi people re-appropriate their rights to national independence, he added, announcing that if Morocco persists in its refusal to organise the referendum, SADR "will ask to be admitted as a member of the UN".
In an announcement on Algerian radio, the Saharawi president also declared that "no alternative to the peace plan exists ...The Polisario Front will accept only national independence as the sole objective of the Saharawi people".
In Rabat Saharawi students organised a commemoration march in the night of 26-27 February.
On the occasion of the anniversary of the independence of the Sahara, Mr Salim Ahmed Salim, General Secretary of the OAU, sent a message to President Mohamed Abdelaziz, assuring the Saharawi people of the support of the OAU in its right to self-determination and calling on the international community to work in the same direction.
The Saharawi flag was flown in
Basque municipalities twinned with Saharawi localities.
In Italy, the Committee of Solidarity with the Saharawi People of Reggio Emilia organised a debate on the recognition of SADR and the Polisario Front, participation included elected members from the region, Senator Giovannelli (DS), the Polisario representative in Italy, Omar Mih and the President of the National Association, L. Ardesi. The deputy minister of Foreign Affairs, Rino Serri sent a message in which he reaffirmed "the full support of our country to the UN Peace Plan and the referendum on self-determination."
Resolution of the Security Council S/RES/1292 (2000).
The Security Council decided to extend the mandate of MINURSO by three months and to charge James Baker with finding an "early,durable and agreed" solution to the differences between the parties. The vote on the resolution was delayed by the discussion of amendments put by Namibia and France. The French proposal, aiming to mention a solution other than the referendum, was lost. On the contrary, the Namibian proposal, reaffirming the full support of the Council for the efforts so far realised for the application of the peace plan for a referendum on self-determination was included in the final text, adopted unanimously.
The Saharawi party, through the voice of the Polisario Front representative to the UN, declared itself reassured. A. Boukhari recalled that there could be no alternative, acceptable and reasonable solution to the peace plan. "We believe, he added, that the road that leads to the referendum is the best option, politically, legally and strategically for the settlement of the conflict."
For the Moroccan Ambassador to the UN, Morocco remains attached to the peace plan, but wants respect for "the intangible principle of the right of candidates not in the census to exercise their right of appeal".
"After the concerns raised by the last report of the Secretary General about the perspectives for settling the question of Western Sahara, the Algerian Press Agency APS pointed out, the Security Council has just replaced in its proper context the question of decolonisation, so that hope for the rapid settlement on the basis of the signed agreements is again renewed.
In a communique MINURSO announced that a total of 135,000 appeals have been lodged. The provisional number of voters is 86,381.
In different towns in Morocco Saharawi students organised peaceful marches in solidarity with the Saharawi political detainees. In Agadir more than 300 students demanded the liberation of the three Saharawis arrested on 6 December last, at present on hunger strike. The demonstrators intended to gather in front of the law court, but the police forces brutally prevented them. AFAPREDESA and SPS published a provisional list of 16 people arrested (according to AFP 25 arrested) and 12 wounded.
In Smara Saharawi unemployed graduates and workers have been holding a sit-in since 21 February. They are demanding jobs and better conditions of work, on the one hand, and on the other they are expressing solidarity with the three Saharawi detainees on hunger strike and are calling for the release of Mohamed Daddach, a Saharawi held since 1976. These demonstrations led on 1 March to a violent confrontation with the Moroccan police forces. After about 10 hours of confrontation there were 56 wounded Saharawis. Thirteen members of the forces of order were injured. About 20 people, temporarily arrested, were released by the Governor of the town (AFAPREDESA, Saharawi delegation in Spain). Balance according to AFP: 20 injured manifestants, 9 of them seriously and 9 members of the police injured, 3 of them seriously.
Private Visit of Mohamed VI to Madrid
During a luncheon in Madrid with the King of Spain, in the presence of the President of the Government and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, King Mohamed VI spoke on his proposal for political autonomy in order to resolve the problem of the Sahara without a referendum. After France, Italy and Portugal, the King of Morocco will pay an official visit to Spain in September.
The Agreement of the association of Morocco and the European Union has come into force. This agreement comprises a regular political dialogue, economic, social, cultural and financial cooperation, in the context of the MEDA programme, as well as the progressive putting into place of a zone of free exchange.
The King of Morocco inspected the military bases of Errachidia and Ouarzazat, as well as the Southern Zone Command (Western Sahara) in Agadir.
King Mohamed VI will participate in the Euro-African Summit, which will take place on 3-4 April in Cairo. This summit was made possible thanks to the Saharawi Republic's renouncing its right to take part in it.
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