quinta-feira, 28 de maio de 2009

Four days of Western Saharan begin in Madrid

On Tuesday, over 100 participants were on hand for the opening session of four days of debates, roundtables, and conferences concerning various aspects of the Western Saharan conflict. The theme of this year’s seminar is “Western Sahara: Internationalization and Human Rights.”

The conferences, which are sponsored and organized by a committee of six public universities in Madrid, primarily the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, are taking place in the Círculo de Bellas Artes in downtown Madrid.

The opening session began with remarks from José María Sanz, Director of the Universidad Autónoma, Juan Barja, Director of the Círculo de Bellas Artes, José Taboada, President of the National Coordination of the Friends of the Saharawi Associations, and Abdelkader Taleb Omar, Prime Minister of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).

“In terms of international relations, the Western Sahara is the most important issue for our country,” said Taboada. “There are many independence movements throughout the world…but our assistance to the Saharawis is part of the debt we must repay them.”

After the opening remarks, the conferences were underway with the first debate, whose theme was “The International Stage: The United Nations and the Western Sahara.” Bukhari Ahmed and Francesco Bastagli, the ex-Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to the Western Sahara, both spoke, offering their positions on the usefulness and future of the UN Mission for a Referendum in the Western Sahara (MINURSO).

“I’m not going to tell you the history of the UN in the Western Sahara, because I think you all know it by now,” began Bastagli.

“The international community has done practically nothing,” continued Bastagli. “There are human rights violations that continue daily in the Occupied Territories, but the absence of the international community continues daily, as well.”

Speaking of the failed efforts of the previous Special Representative to the Western Sahara, Peter van Walsum, Bastagli pointed out that the Dutch diplomat had determined that Morocco’s autonomy plan was the only realistic option because “Morocco will never abandon the territory voluntarily, and the Security Council and its member states will never put pressure on Morocco to respect international law.”

The ex-Special Representative also spoke briefly on the current UN strategy of using direct negotiations.

“It is a somewhat dangerous strategy,” admitted Bastagli. “Politically speaking, neither party can be the one to back out of the negotiations, even if they see they are fruitless.”

The Polisario Representative to the UN, Boukhari Ahmed, spoke about the double standards applied by the UN’s mission and his doubts that the resolution to the conflict lie in the hands of the UN alone.

“The Saharawi people have lost 90 percent of their confidence in the peace plan and the UN,” insisted Boukhari. “We are facing a barricaded process, and we have two basic options to find a resolution: the new American Administration, which has given some small signs of hope, and military pressure. If we do not see results from the first option within a year, we may turn to the second.”

During the question and answer session following the debate, Mr. Boukhari was questioned about the one-year timeline he set for the Obama Administration to act on the Western Sahara.

“Would you rather I set a timeline for us to die?” he responded. “I think a year is long enough to know where we’re heading. One year is enough.”

International solidarity
A delegation of Saharawi leaders and diplomats made the trip to Madrid to attend the events throughout the week. Included in the group are Abdelkader Taleb Omar, SADR Prime Minister; Khadija Hamdi, SADR Minister of Culture; Bukhari Ahmed, Polisario Representative to the UN; Lih Beiruk, Polisario Representative to the Netherlands; and
Mouloud Said, Polisario Representative to the US. In addition to dozens of Spanish activists, students, and reporters, also on hand for the opening session where participants from Nicaragua, Mexico, Chile, and the United States.

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