domingo, 12 de abril de 2009

Activists react to landmine blast during International March against the Wall of Shame

Still in shock over the landmine explosion during the International March against the Wall of Shame the previous day, foreign visitors to the Saharawi refugee camps expressed their continued solidarity with the Saharawi people on Saturday.

“I couldn’t stop crying during the whole march,” said Maria from Cuenca, Spain, who was visiting the Western Sahara for the first time. “I cried when I saw the wall, which is a manifestation of all that the Saharawi people are suffering. I cried when I saw the young people start to throw rocks and charge at the wall. And I especially cried when I heard about the landmine explosion.”

During the march, which included over 2,000 foreigners and hundreds of Saharawis, a group of young Saharawis began to approach the heavily-fortified, 2,500 km Moroccan wall, which divides the Western Sahara in two. The wall is protected by over 160,000 soldiers, hundreds of tanks and millions of landmines.

“We understood their actions completely,” said Maria. “We could see all of the anger, all of the emotion that they had been carrying inside themselves. It was almost too powerful to watch.”

The Moroccan berm is surrounded by a barbed-wire fence, supposedly marking the areas that are mined. It was in this zone that the explosion occurred.

“But the mines were in front of the barbed wire, too,” confirmed Irene, from Madrid, Spain. “We stepped over a few mines without realizing it. I saw at least four.”

Unarmed police officers of the Polisario Front – the movement for Saharawi independence – accompanied the group and attempted to control its movements, but small groups broke off and wandered into the minefields.

“Polisario did its best to keep everyone controlled,” said Pablo, from Madrid, “but the young people have been shoring up such extreme anger that they could not be stopped.”

“All the international protestors were well-informed and well-controlled, and I never felt like I was in any danger,” he added.

Moroccan minister tells a different story

After yesterday’s march, the minister of foreign affairs in Morocco released a statement, condemning the peaceful protest and claiming that the Saharawis had violated an 18-year-old cease-fire.

“[Polisario] has flagrantly violated the military agreements,” the decree read. “On Friday, Polisario and 1,600 activists entered into the prohibited area in 90 Jeeps, 10 trucks and several bicycles.”

More importantly, the Moroccan statement claimed that the Polisario guards that accompanied the protestors were heavily armed, and that “various shots were fired into the air.”

Had this been true, Polisario would have been violating the terms of the 1991 ceasefire it signed with the Moroccan monarchy, which was sponsored by the United Nations and the Organization for African Unity. The agreement prohibits any military activity within 5 km of the wall on the Polisario side.

“Yeah, I’m used to hearing these kinds of lies from Moroccan politicians,” said Pablo. “The statements are completely false.”

“There were no gunshots, just rocks being thrown,” confirmed his friend, Iñigo. “The police didn’t even have pistols – they were just carrying radios to communicate.”

All of the activists interviewed expressed similar contempt for the Moroccan statement.

“Lies, complete lies,” exclaimed Maria. “They said we came with tanks and guns, but [the young Saharawis] had bicycles and were throwing rocks!”

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