Morocco and Spain, who have in recent times been involved in numerous diplomatic incidents, are to face their toughest test yet as Spanish and Sahrawi activists prepare to launch a flotilla to call for the independence of Western Sahara. The project has been strongly denounced by the Moroccan government and some local associations.
Last May’s Free Gaza humanitarian flotilla has become a rallying cry for pro-independence activists.
Sahrawi and Spanish activists, on 2 September, announced their decision to launch a flotilla for the independence of Western Sahara, a territory claimed by the Moroccan Kingdom. Their idea is to set off from the Canary Islands and dock in Laayoune, the capital of Western Sahara, South of Morocco.
The fleet, which has been named “Mahfoud Ali Beiba”, will set-off in the first quarter of 2011 with the aim to break the “information blockade suffered by the Sahrawi people,” Isabel Galeote, spokesperson for the Human Rights Observatory in the occupied territories of Western Sahara told El Pais, a Spanish daily.
According to a press release issued on September 2, the fleet will be composed of “persons, entities, organizations, and institutions in solidarity with the Polisario” (a pro independence political movement in Western Sahara).
The humanitarian group’s decision has triggered the ire of Moroccans who have threatened to attack the boats should they hit their waters. Le Soir Echos, a Moroccan daily, indicates that the Moroccan Sahara Association (ASM) is in talks with fishermen’s unions and organizations of land owners in the southern provinces to stop the “Spanish provocateurs” on high seas.
This is not the pro-Polisario activists’ first confrontation with the Moroccan government. On August 28, members of the “SaharAcciones” association were arrested by police in Laayoune when they tried to protest by waving pro-Polisario and anti-Moroccan banners. The act was strongly condemned by the Moroccan government as well as several associations.
“It was a ridiculous act, illegal and provocative to the extent that the authors have hurt the feeling of Moroccans,” said Khalid Naciri, the government spokesman.
The announcement of the flotilla for independence could corrode an already degraded diplomatic atmosphere between the two Kingdoms. Before and during the summer, many border incidents were reported between the two countries in the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melila in northern Morocco.