sexta-feira, 17 de abril de 2009

President of SADR meets with delegation of Basque youth after week-long exchange with Saharawis

Five young activists from the Basque region of Spain were received by President Muhamed Abdelaziz in the headquarters of the executive branch of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) on Thursday.

The group, which included students and graduates who had been involved in the Western Sahara for over 10 years, had helped to organize a week-long youth encounter between Basque and Saharawi youth, which primarily took place in the refugee camp of Ausserd.

After inquiring about the health and well-being of the 74 Basque visitors, the soft-spoken President Abdelaziz began the meeting with a heartfelt thank you to the young activists, but his comments quickly took on a political tone.

"First of all, I want to thank you for all of the support you have given to the Saharawi youth," said the President. "Your solidarity means the world to them and to all of us.

"As you know, ours is a political conflict that is based around four objectives: first and foremost, the organization of a free and transparent referendum that includes the option of independence; second, the cessation of human rights violations in the occupied Western Sahara; third, the destruction of the Moroccan wall that divides the Western Sahara and its people; and fourth, the end of the illegal exploitation of the natural resources of our country by Morocco."

After detailing the intricacies of the current conflict under international law, the President did not hesitate to pass around the room, pouring glasses of water for his international and Saharawi guests, which included Muhamed Sidati, the SADR foreign minister to Europe, and Musa Selma, secretary general of the Saharawi Youth Union (UJSARIO).

Through fire and flames

Next the floor was taken by the young Basque organizers. The activists detailed the events and conclusions drawn from their five days of conferences, workshops and visits for the President, who listened attentively as they expressed their commitment to the Saharawi young people, the movement for independence and the Polisario Front – the leaders of the Saharawi movement.

"Tomorrow is the last day of our trip," said one of the young activists, "but it is not the end of this exchange – it is only the beginning. We will continue the fight with you. The important thing now is that we return to our own country and put into motion all the ideas that have been floating around all week."

Another one of the organizers, Alfred, has been involved with the Saharawi cause since the late 1990s. After detailing some of the protests, hunger strikes and meetings with the Spanish government that he and other young Basques had undertaken in the past decade, he talked about the reality he has seen in his many visits to the Saharawi camps.

"Every time I visit the camps," said the young Basque, "everybody asks me if I like it here. Of course I don’t like it here. This is a living hell that is not fit for any human being. But what I do like are the people here, especially your hope and happiness in the face of difficult odds."

The kids are alright

Before the meeting concluded, President Abdelaziz spoke on the role of the Saharawi youth within the movement for independence.

"The young Saharawis are of utmost importance for the success of our movement," insisted the President. "It is the youth who have staged the peaceful protests in the Occupied Territories; it is the youth who continue to resist the human rights violations by Morocco; and it is the youth who are responsible for the success of these temporary camps.

"We in the Polisario Front have been taking extra steps to make sure that both the youth and women are appropriately represented in all of our institutions. The Saharawi young people are the Saharawi movement."

Final days

The meeting with the President of the SADR was the last organized event of the six-day visit to the Saharawi refugee camps. While the five Basque organizers were meeting with the President, the other 69 Basques and their dozens of Saharawi counterparts were taking part in a trip to the dunes outside of the refugee camp of Ausserd.

On Friday, the leaders of the youth exchange will unite to publish a final declaration concerning their activities in Ausserd, their conclusions drawn from the workshops and their plans for continuing to work together in the future.

The Basque youth will be heading back to their own country on Friday night, after a final day of free time to be spent with newfound friends and families.

Saharawi and Basque youth conclude cultural exchange in Ausserd

On the final day of pre-arranged activities of a youth cultural exchange, 74 young people from the Basque region of Spain and dozens of Saharawi youth gathered in the administrative headquarters of the Saharawi refugee camp of Ausserd to discuss the results of their encounter and prepare for further programs.

After six days of meetings, workshops and conferences arranged by the Saharawi Youth Union (UJSARIO), during which the participants were split into groups focusing on eight different themes – Health, Gender, Sports, Culture, Environment, Communication, Work and Development – the young people came together to brainstorm and present their ideas to the other groups.

This final gathering was opened with remarks by Bechir Hilah, the director of the Social Commission of the National Parliament of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).

"These exchanges are the best way for young Saharawis to have their voices heard – by directly interacting with the international community," insisted Bechir. "This is the first such exchange between Basque and Saharawi youth, but it must not be the last."

Where to begin?

Next, the eight different groups met individually to discuss plans for moving forward. Sitting in circles on the carpeted floor, the young people enthusiastically used the paper, posterboard and PowerPoint presentations at their disposal to come up with their proposals.

Saharawi moderators translated into Hassaniya for those who did not speak Spanish as the groups presented their findings and suggestions.

For example, the Saharawis and Basques that had spent the week in workshops on Health spoke about the image that women are expected to have in the Saharawi culture. Highlighting differences between the two cultures, women here are found more attractive if they have pale skin and rounder faces and bodies. The Basques learned that some of the women were using creams and weight-gain pills that contained potentially-harmful chemicals.

"We want to engage with the Saharawi youth in addressing these issues of image, as well as other small adjustments that can help improve their health here in the camps, such as posture, the effects of the sun, the value of stretching, etc," said one of the Basque presenters.

The presenters of the Gender topic addressed the need of young women to have a public space that will provide them with a respite from their household duties and a place to communicate their own ideas. Those from the Environment group talked about potential improvements in garbage collection, such as the placement of trash receptacles in public spaces.

Many ideas and proposals were offered, but the general mood of this final meeting of the cultural exchange was best expressed by Ilmommy, a member of the volunteer youth organization known as the Freedom and Peace Group.

"These cannot just be ideas that stay here in this meeting hall," Ilmommy insisted. "We have to make sure we actually put them into place."

Wrapping up

This final meeting had a double purpose – it served both to add closure to conferences and seminars in which the Basques and Saharawis participated throughout the week and to motivate the young people of both nations to commit to the realization of further exchanges and programs between the two.

After the full day of meetings, the participants piled into two open-topped trucks, in which they travelled to the nearby dunes to take advantage of a peerless Saharan sunset with cups of tea and music.

The Basque youth will leave the camp of Ausserd on Friday after a final day of free time with their new-found Saharawi friends and family.

"I can’t believe we have to leave already," said Bego, a student from the University of Deusto in Bilbao, Spain. "It will be terrible to be torn apart from our friends here."

President of Saharawi National Parliament addresses Basque youth group

During part of their week-long visit to the Saharawi refugee camps outside of Tindouf, Algeria, a group of 74 Basque young people and their Saharawi guides were received by Mahfud Ali Bayba, the President of the National Parliament of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), in the Parliament itself.

Amid flashing cameras and stunned silence, Mahfud spoke with the young Basque visitors, who were participating in a youth exchange with Saharawis from the Saharawi Youth Union (UJSARIO) and two volunteer youth organizations – the Sumud Brigades and the Freedom and Peace Group. The event was also attended by five other members of the National Parliament.

"You can’t imagine the energy you give us when young people such as yourselves come visit us and show your solidarity with our cause," confessed Mahfud.

Tailoring his discourse specifically for the audience, the President of the Parliament did not hesitate to accuse Spain of playing dirty politics with Morocco and refusing to take on its responsibilities under international law.

"It is unbelievable that the Saharawi conflict, which takes place a few dozen kilometers from the [Spanish] Canary Islands, is barely known among the Spanish people," Mahfud declared. "Morocco has always played games with Spanish politics.

"No Spanish government has been able to take a clear, pronounced stance on the issue of the Western Sahara."

Like all events here in the Saharawi refugee camps, the youth exchange must be seen through the larger lens of the Saharawi movement for independence, the root cause of any other issues and concerns of the Saharawi people. Therefore, politics remained the topic of the day during the parliamentarian’s speech.

"Our fight is a political one," Mahfud assured. "The support of the Spanish government is essential for the success of that fight. If we can fix the political problem, all the other problems about natural resources, human rights, etc., will be resolved in turn."

Highlighting the 30-year democratic experience that the Saharawis have been able to perfect, the President of the Parliament spoke on the merits of the government of the SADR.

"We are an Arab, Muslim, African and Third World people. No one expects a democracy to be born here," claimed the parliamentarian, "but theory is very different from practice, and we have been able to do something incredible here."

A government with no country

Responding to questions from the audience, the President of the Parliament gave a brief history lesson on the SADR, which is recognized as a sovereign nation by over 80 countries and the African Union (AU).

"The Saharawi Parliament was born before the country itself," asserted Mafoot.

The parliament was called together several months before the SADR was declared, and on February 27th, 1975, one day after the Spanish government illegally relinquished its control of the Western Sahara, the Saharawi Parliament gave birth to the fledgling nation.

"We had to fill the legal, political and administrative gap left by Spain’s departure," explained the President of the Parliament.

"Since the beginning, the Saharawis have been Polisario, and Polisario has been the Saharawis. The Saharawis are the government, and the government is the Saharawis," boasted Mahfud. "Every Saharawi is at once the majority and the opposition. It is an amazing experiment here in the Saharan Desert."

Trading cultures

The visit to the National Parliament by the group of 100-and-some youth was part of a week-long series of conferences, workshops and exchanges between young people from the Basque region of Spain and from the Saharawi refugee camps, primarily the camp of Ausserd.

The exchange, which is the first of its kind between Basques and Saharawis, is meant to be the first step towards a strong partnership of collaboration between the young people of the two nations.

"We have come here to show our solidarity with the Saharawi people," said one of the Basque organizers. "We will be the ambassadors for the Saharawi youth and all the people here in our own country."

Saharawi-Basque youth exchange builds bridges across the Mediterranean

A group of 74 young people from the Basque region of Spain visited the Saharawi refugee camps outside of Tindouf, Algeria, to engage in a cultural exchange with young Saharawis as the first stage of a partnership between the youth of the two nations.

The exchange, which is the first of its kind between Basques and Saharawis, took place in the refugee camp of Ausserd, where the group of young Basques attended six days of conferences, meetings and workshops hosted by the Saharawi Youth Union (UJSARIO). Two Saharawi volunteer youth organizations – the Sumud Brigade and the Freedom and Peace Group – helped to organize and monitor the activities, as well.

Once in Ausserd, the young Basques split into groups that focused on one of eight topics: Health, Gender, Sports, Culture, Environment, Communication, Work and Development. Throughout the week, the Saharawis and Basques discussed their different views, concerns and needs regarding each topic.

"It is an exchange between our two cultures," said Arrate, a student at the University of Deusto in Bilbao, Spain. "We’ve come to listen to the needs of the Saharawi youth here and to see how we can help them meet those needs."

"For example, in the ‘Gender’ group, we are focusing on the needs of the young Saharawi women to have a space where they can communicate and express themselves," explained Bego, another student from Bilbao.

The exchange is meant to be the first step towards a strong partnership of collaboration between the young people of the two nations. The young Basques have come with open minds to learn about the realities faced by Saharawi youth in the camps and to find ways to contribute to the Saharawi movement for independence through projects that show their solidarity with the young people here in the camps.

"We’re hoping to look at the needs that are here and continue to develop projects that we can help out with," said Ainize, also a student from the University of Deusto.

"One thing we’re really focusing on is general development and education," added Agata, from Bilbao. "The youth have to be ready to function normally when they return to their own country in a free Western Sahara."

Since this is the first exchange of its kind, there are still some uncertainties about its outcome. Overall, however, both Basque and Saharawi participants gave a very positive response concerning their experiences.

"To be honest, we’re still not sure exactly what will come out of this," admits Musa Selma, Secretary General of UJSARIO. "We’ll have to see. But I think it has been very productive so far."

While Saharawis from several different camps took part in the week’s activities, the program is aimed specifically at youth from Ausserd, where social services and opportunities for young people are in short supply.

"Smara has a few programs, February 27th has several, El Aaiun has its own, and even Dahkla has a few," said Musa, referring to the other Saharawi camps surrounding Tindouf, Algeria," but here in Ausserd, there is nothing for the youth. So this encounter is very important for both parties involved."

No small task

Arranging the week-long exchange has been no easy task. Preparations began in October of 2008, when a pair of visitors from the Basque group Euskari Youth visited the camps to find ways that the two populations could work together more closely.

"Eight months ago we had two visitors from the Basque region," tells Musa. "We started coming up with ideas, and then five months ago, we really started planning things.

"They [the Basques] had to come up with the money for the plane tickets, food and lodging, and UJSARIO had to arrange all the meetings and activities. It took a lot of planning by both sides. We’re very tired, but it has been worth it," he added.

While both the youth and women’s unions are supported by the Polisario Front – the leaders of the Saharawi movement for independence – the majority of activities and funding in the camps are dedicated towards meeting basic needs of the people and sustaining the peaceful campaign for the freedom of the Western Sahara. As a result, exchanges such as this have to be arranged by the Saharawi youth themselves.

"It is difficult," admits Musa. "If we want to do something like this, we have to go to other countries to be able to do it. It isn’t easy, but it is something we have to do."

Taking a "break"

On Wednesday, the hundred-and-some young people took a break from their meetings and workshops and piled into gigantic, open-topped trucks to visit some of the institutions of the Saharawi camps.

The group toured the Ministry of Information in the administrative camp of Rabouni, the National Archives, the Military Museum, the National Parliament and the headquarters of the Association for the Relatives of Saharawi Political Prisoners and Disappeared Persons (AFAPRADESA).

"It has been extremely interesting," said Ainize. "It was nice to take a break from the meetings and get a chance to actually see the camps themselves."

After a final day of free time with new-found families and friends, the Basques will return to Spain on Friday evening to begin working on their projects.

"This is not the end," admits Alfred, one of the trip’s organizers, "it is only the beginning."

AWSA calls for the protection of human rights in the occupied Western Sahara

The Australian Western Sahara Association (AWSA) called today on the UN Security Council’s President, Amb. Claude Heller, to guarantee the protection of human rights in the occupied zones of Western Sahara.

The letter, also addressed to the Australian Minister of FA, Hon. Stephen Smith, and the Moroccan Ambassador in Australia, expressed concerns about the treatment of the Moroccan authorities to Saharawi prisoners of conscience, especially three prisoners who has recently suspended a 56 days hunger strike.

Here is the complete text of the letter AWSA sent to the President of the UN Security Council:

Dear Ambassador

I am writing on behalf of the Australia Western Sahara Association concerning the situation of three Saharawi political prisoners - Brahim Baryaz, Alisalem Ablagh and Khallihanna Aboulhassan being held by the Moroccan authorities.

The prisoners have suspended a lengthy hunger strike following negotiations between their families and representatives of the General Delegation of the Prisons Administration in Morocco on Wednesday 8 April 2009 and the local prison administration in Marrakesh.

We understand that this suspension is of a temporary nature while the authorities fulfill their undertakings that some of the miserable conditions of the prison will be improved and that the prisoners’ appeal to be treated as prisoners of conscience is considered.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented consistent abuses of Saharawi human rights in the occupied territory, often in respect of protests to support the proposed UN referendum for self determination, a proposal which is within international law. Accordingly these three, Brahim Baryaz, Alisalem Ablagh and Khallihanna Aboulhassan, are political prisoners and their conditions of imprisonment should reflect this.

AWSA asks the United Nations Security Council to urge the Moroccan Authorities that these and other political prisoners to be afforded humane treatment, and that the human rights of all those in the occupied territories be protected.

We look forward to hearing from you on this issue.

Yours sincerely,

Lesley Osborne
AWSA Vice President

L’Ouganda réitère son soutien au droit du peuple sahraoui à l'autodétermination et à l'indépendance

Kampala, Le ministre des Affaires étrangères de l'Ouganda, Henry Okello Oryem, a réitéré mercredi, la position de soutien de son pays au droit peuple sahraoui à l'autodétermination et à l'indépendance à l’issue d’une réunion avec le membre du Secrétariat national coordonnateur avec la MINURSO, Mhamed Khaddad à Kampala.

Le Chef de la diplomatie ougandaise, lequel son pays est membre non permanent du Conseil de sécurité jusqu’à 2010, a réaffirme que "l'Ouganda défendra cette conviction devant toutes les instances régionales et internationales".

Pour sa part, le diplomate sahraoui a informé son interlocuteur de la question du Sahara Occidental. Les deux parties ont discuté des relations bilatérales, des questions d’intérêts communs et et le prochain débat au conseil de sécurité sur le Sahara occidental..

Les deux parties se sont félicitées des relations fraternelles de solidarité existant entre la RASD et la République d’Ouganda. Des relations qui ont été rehaussées par l’ouverture, depuis plus d’une année, d’une ambassade sahraouie à Kampala.

M. Khaddad est accompagnée dans cette visite par l’ambassadeur sahraoui auprès de l’Ouganda, Hamdi Boiha, rappelle-t-on.

Le Maroc empêche la tenue d’un nouveau round des pourparlers (ambassadeur)

Alger, L'ambassadeur de la République arabe sahraouie démocratique en Algérie, Brahim Ghali, a déclaré que le Maroc est en train de saper les négociations entre les deux parties au conflit du Sahara occidental, le Front Polisario et le Maroc, devant aboutir à une solution qui garantit le droit du peuple sahraoui à l’autodétermination, a rapporté mercredi, l'Agence d’information (Prensa Latina).

"Le Maroc continue de défier la communauté internationale et renier à ses engagements en présentant son plan d'autonomie comme le seul moyen de sortir du conflit. Une proposition rejetée par les Sahraouis, dans sa forme et son contenu ", a ajouté la même source.

Le diplomate sahraoui a indiqué que la date n’a pas été encore fixée pour la cinquième série de pourparlers et de réunions préparatoires non officielles citées par le Secrétaire général des Nations unies Ban Ki-Moon.

M. Ghali a réaffirmé la disponibilité du Front Polisario à reprendre les négociations et à coopérer avec l'ONU pour trouver une solution devant garantir la stabilité dans la région, insistant que "l'autodétermination est incontournable pour résoudre le conflit".