By James Morrison
May 11, 2007
A former U.S. ambassador accused Morocco of "deception" in its attempt to negotiate an end to the dispute over the Western Sahara region of North Africa. "The secret of illusionists is to concentrate the audience's attention on the left hand, while the right hand creates the deception," Frank Ruddy said at a congressional hearing this week. "Morocco has shown itself to be a first-class illusionist." Mr. Ruddy, a former ambassador to Equatorial Guinea, was deputy chairman of a U.N. commission in 1994 that attempted to supervise a referendum on the region to allow the indigenous Sahrawi people to determine the future of Western Sahara, occupied by Morocco since the mid-1970s. Morocco, he said, "is drawing the attention of the U.N. and various foreign offices to its proposal of autonomy for Western Sahara as a long-awaited solution to the stalemate in North Africa, while, at the same time, it conceals the essential cause of the stalemate: Morocco's illegal invasion and occupation of Western Sahara." Mr. Ruddy said Morocco is ignoring a 1975 ruling by the World Court, which rejected Morocco's claim over the region, and a U.N. General Assembly resolution, which called for self-determination for the Sahrawi people. Aziz Mekouar, Morocco's ambassador to the United States, last week said his government is prepared to engage in "serious, direct and good-faith negotiations" with the former rebels of the Polisario Front. However, front leaders said such talks would be useless unless Morocco agrees to allow a referendum on the future of the area. Mr. Ruddy recounted his attempts to register voters and organize a U.N.-sponsored plebiscite 13 years ago. "I ran that referendum, which was sabotaged by Morocco when it became clear that the Sahrawis ... would opt for independence," he said. Mr. Ruddy also criticized the Bush administration for failing to insist on a referendum on independence. "Sadly our own government has not confronted Morocco's lawless behavior," he said.