domingo, 12 de abril de 2009

Landmine blast sparks massive protest march in Saharawi refugee camps

Hundreds of Saharawis, both young and old, were joined by hundreds of international activists as they marched through the Saharawi refugee camp of February 27th on Saturday morning.

The protestors followed a pick-up truck carrying a group of Saharawi youth, who led them in deafening chants.

“No other alternative but self-determination! No, no to autonomy! Western Saharan independence is on its way! Through armed struggle we will redeem the Western Sahara with our lives! Ibrahim, rest easy, we will continue the fight!”

This last chant refers to Ibrahim Hussein Abait, who lost his foot in a landmine blast on Friday during a peaceful march in the desert. In what is called the International March against the Wall of Shame, over 800 Saharawis and 2,000 international visitors marched 2 km in the desert to show their opposition to the 2,500 km-long Moroccan wall that divides the two, and to show their support for the Saharawis’ peaceful struggle for independence.

The Moroccan wall is heavily fortified by infantry, tanks and millions of landmines. The Polisario Front, the leaders of the Saharawi movement for independence, has been working actively with Landmine Action, a British NGO, to de-mine the territory under their control. But there are still millions of mines surrounding the wall, and there is speculation that Morocco continues to plant more, which would be in violation of the ceasefire signed in 1991.

The straw that will break the camel’s back?

During the march in February 27th, the Spanish, Italian, Austrian, French, Mexican, Salvadorian, American, Portuguese and British travelers gathered at the camp’s entrance, where they were rallied by the Saharawi youth groups the Sumud Brigade and Peace and Liberty and the National Union of Saharawi Women (UNMS).

From the entrance, the group of more than a thousand poured onto the main road and marched 2 km to the school and administrative center. The road was completely impassable, but drivers happily pulled over to the shoulder, honked their horns and chanted along with the passing crowd.

When the group arrived at the school, protestors climbed onto the rooftops and continued their shouts. Children wandered out of their classrooms, curious about the commotion. They, too, joined in the cries of sorrow over the injury of their fellow countryman and of reassurance that the struggle for Western Saharan independence would continue.

Amid a sea of green, white, and black – the colors of the flags of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) – the emotion was tangible.

“People from the outside world can’t understand,” said Ilmomi, a member of the Peace and Liberty youth group. “We’ve been living like this our whole lives, and we can’t take much more of it.”

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