Morocco-Western Sahara: Moroccans risk jail for visiting W/Sahara camps in Algeria

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A visit, made this week by a group of persons to the Tindouf camps in south western Algeria, has not gone down well with Moroccans. Several political parties and some NGOs have openly expressed their discontent while arguing that the act is tantamount to “treason”. The camps, located in Tindouf in south west Algeria, shelter Western Saharan refugees who have fled from conflict areas. Meanwhile, criticisms have been rife in the international community over the illegality of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara.

Although the visit, discretely undertaken by human rights activists, was on purely humanitarian grounds, several Moroccans claim it is an attempt to “undermine the Moroccan proposal of autonomy in the Sahara region”.

This comes after a recent autonomy plan proposed by Morocco as a solution to the Western Saharan political impasse was refused by the Polisario Front, a group working for the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco. Morocco claims the disputed Western Sahara as part of its southern provinces. Other countries say that Western Sahara is an independent state under Moroccan occupation.

Arguing that the occupation demonstrates “continued violations of international law and a flagrant attempt by Morocco to expand its territory by force”, the General Secretary of the International Association of Jurists for Western Sahara at the 4th session decolonization debates at the United Nations insisted that “Morocco is an occupying power and should not be exempt from observing international law”.

Many other countries also indicated that the autonomy plan is revelatory of a sabotage and directed towards the disruption of the self-determination process proposed by the United Nations, whilst emphasizing on the “human tragedy” witnessed in Western Sahara.

Meanwhile, in Morocco, attention is focused on the 4th commission of decolonization of United Nations, where South Africa, Cuba and Venezuela have voiced their support for the self-determination of Western Sahara. South African representative, Baso Sangqu, Monday, reiterated his approval to the self determination of Western Sahara, while Cuban representative, Rodolfo Benitez, insisted that Western Sahara has a fundamental right to self determination. The Western Saharan demand for self-determination was regarded by a large number of participants as an unalienable right.

Obsevers have said that the commission’s 4th session debate is important to educate the Moroccan people on their country’s position vis-à-vis the decision taken by the international community to recognize the sovereignty of Western Sahara.

For the time being, all visits by Moroccan nationals to the Tindouf camps are considered “anti-Moroccan” and those who make the journey to the camp run the risk of being thrown into jail.

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