Intifada in Western Sahara
Morocco seals off the occupied
by Chris Brazier
New Internationalist magazine,
The capital of Moroccan-occupied Western
Sahara, La'youn, has been effectively cut off from the outside
world following weeks of protests and brutal repression by security
forces in May and June.
Delegations of Spanish journalists and
parliamentarians anxious to investigate the circumstances and
scale of the clampdown have repeatedly been turned back by the
The trouble started when, on 21 May, the
authorities transferred Ahmed Mahmoud Hadi, known as 'Kainan'
- whom the Moroccans say they are holding for drugs offences and
for 'insulting the monarchy' but whom Saharawis see as a prisoner
of conscience - from what is known as the Dark Prison in La'youn
to a jail near Agadir in Morocco. Saharawi sources claim Kaman
was tortured and forcibly anaesthetized and, in protest, his family
and a group of human-rights activists staged a sit-in outside
the Dark Prison.
Security forces violently broke up the
sit-in, further escalating the protests as large crowds of Saharawis
took to the streets, calling for the release of arrested demonstrators
and shouting pro-independence slogans. Regular clashes followed
over the next few days between demonstrators and paramilitary
riot police. At night Saharawi neighbourhoods were surrounded
by police: phone lines and street lights were cut off as security
forces raided homes. The protests spread quickly to other Saharawi
cities such as Smara and Dakhla, and to Moroccan cities with large
Saharawi populations, such as Rabat, Marrakech and Agadir.
Saharawi sources are calling this an 'Intifada'.
The echo of Palestinian resistance is deliberate. The Saharawi
inhabitants of Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara have known for
years what Palestinians are now discovering: what it is like to
live behind a wall that separates them from the rest of their
country and even other members of their families. Whereas Israel's
wall cutting off portions of the West Bank is still being erected,
Morocco's fortified wall, protected throughout its 1,500-kilometre
length by gun emplacements and minefields, has been in place since
the late 1980s.
Between 1975, when Morocco invaded the
former Spanish colony, and 1991, when a ceasefire took hold, guerrilla
resistance to the occupation was led by the national liberation
movement Polisario, which drew its soldiers from refugee settlements
over the border in the Algerian desert. Now, however, after more
than a decade of frustration and disappointment as UN attempts
to hold a referendum on self-determination have been consistently
stymied by Morocco, Saharawis in the occupied territory and in
southern Morocco have increasingly been taking the lead role in
resistance. This despite ferocious repression. Simply displaying
the flag of independent Western Sahara is seen by Morocco as sufficient
cause for detention without trial. Yet in June Kenya joined the
increasing number of African countries that have formally recognized
the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic.
On l7June security forces swooped on Saharawi
human rights activists all over Morocco and the Occupied Territory
in an attempt to stop reports about the repression leaking out.
Instead, the clampdown has sparked further demonstrations and
more arrests. Almost all the Saharawis released from detention
so far claim to have been 'savagely tortured'. Saharawi activists
are issuing increasingly urgent pleas for intervention by human
rights organizations and for international pressure on the Moroccan
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