Posted on Nov 19, 2019
The Polisario Front, founded in 1973 by the Sahrawi people - indigenous to the western part of the Sahara desert - has been increasingly active in the European Parliament (EP) recently.
Meanwhile, the UN revived its efforts to broker a settlement over Western Sahara, contested between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario since Spanish colonial power left in 1974.
Polisario has its own military wing including heavy tanks and surface to air missiles, and seeks independence for the Western Sahara. Morocco, on the other side, considers Western Sahara its “southern provinces” and has proposed giving the territory wide-ranging autonomy
For the first two years of its existence, Polisario fought against the Spanish, conducting guerrilla warfare, and receiving help from Algeria, via which Soviet arms and munitions were channelled to the group, much of it still in use to this day.
In 1975, Spain relinquished administrative control of the territory to a joint administration by Morocco and Mauritania. A war erupted between those countries and the Polisario Front, which proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) with a government in exile in Tindouf, Algeria. Mauritania formally withdrew its claims over the territory in 1979.
Polisario’s lobbyists are currently attempting to establish in the EP a Parliamentary Intergroup to provide a platform for their agenda. Intergroups, which must be approved by the EP’s Conference of Presidents - that is the Presidents of the various political groups - facilitate informal exchanges of views on particular subjects whilst promoting contact between MEPs and civil society.
Intergroups are not Parliament bodies and may not therefore express Parliament's official opinion. However important this distinction may be, representation of an issue or agenda in the EP, alongside images of EU Parliamentarians enjoying hospitality in the country in question, will be presented to both supporters and adversaries alike as a significant coup.
The establishment of a Polisario intergroup in the EP would come at a time when terrorist activity in the Western Sahara is increasing, and would be completely out of line with the European political stance of not interfering in the debates between the protagonists, but backing the UN in its role of peacemaker in the region.
By effectively formalising the lobbying actions undertaken by Polisario in the EP, the EU would be undermining the important work of the UN by being seen to take sides. It would also risk jeopardising its own important relationship with the Kingdom of Morocco, which is currently growing its economy as it seeks to establish itself as the bridge between Europe and Africa.
Just a few months ago the EP voted in favour of agricultural and fisheries agreements with Morocco, including agricultural products from the Sahara its territorial waters. The proposed intergroup could adversely affect this situation should it use the platform to encourage MEPs to question agreements already approved by a large majority, including of the Socialist & Democratic group, who it is believed may be backing the proposal.
The current situation of the Western Sahara is affecting this important region, and impacting upon the lives of millions of human beings. Algeria and Morocco, have had their common border closed for almost 30 years now, stifling economic development for both peoples.
This situation is under the scrutiny of the UN: European politicians should give full support to the process and encourage all parties to work with no preconditions to solve this issue.
The UN, working with Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania as well as Polisario representatives from the cities of Laayoune and Dakhla, in Moroccan Sahara, has achieved full support and engagement of all protagonists.
Most significantly, on July 29th of this year King Mohammed VI of Morocco reiterated the commitment of his country to a political solution on Western Sahara, under “the exclusive aegis of the United Nations”.
However, on the same day, as reported by the Secretary-General of the UN, a video circulated online showing a speech by the leader of Polisario, Brahim Ghali, in which he stated that “the war of liberation” was an “inevitable and a mandatory step”, and appealed for volunteers.
Two days prior to this, the self-styled leader of the so-called “Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic”, Mohamed al-Wali Akeik, stated separately that since “the international community had not done anything”, they were “forced to prepare to enter into war”.
A growing number of states either do not recognise, or have withdrawn recognition from, the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
More than 163 states, including all the EU Member States do not recognise the self-styled state or the Polisario’s false claims to independence, and in August of this year the Wall Street Journal reported that the US government has made it clear that it will not support the establishment of a new state in southern Morocco.
The creation of a Polisario intergroup in the European Parliament is inconvenient at best, and at worst can place in jeopardy a situation in which, since the King’s speech, offers a chance of resolution to a conflict that has gone on for far too long.
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