Monday, August 10, 2009
We seek no revenge – only peace: Mohamed Kheddad
We seek no revenge – only peace
By: Mhamed Khadad
The people of Western Sahara stand prepared to engage with Morocco and to enter open discussions about our joint future.
A new round of talks between the kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front of Western Sahara are under way in Vienna, Austria. These talks, characterised as informal by the personal envoy of the UN secretary general, Christopher Ross, are the latest attempt to bring peace and security to Western Sahara and to the wider Maghreb region. We enter them with an unwavering and genuine commitment to finding a just, mutually acceptable and democratic solution. Will our Moroccan counterparts adopt the same approach?
In every circumstance, peace comes at a cost. Somehow, somewhere, there must be a compromise and someone, generally everyone, must be prepared to search for common ground and to yield to the higher ideals found there. For the people of Western Sahara, the price of peace is high. We have been occupied for over three decades, following an illegal annexation by the Moroccan kingdom. We have seen our natural resources become unethical trade boons to the Moroccan economy while our people languish in refugee camps, unable, or too afraid, to return home.
Yet, rather than seek to exercise a sense of revenge or frustration, we stand prepared to engage with Morocco and to enter open discussions about our joint future. This is long-established policy. In our statement to the UN security council in 2007, we stated we would guarantee "the rights and obligations of the Moroccan population in Western Sahara". We also put on the public record that our readiness "to participate with Morocco and the countries of the region in the maintenance of peace, stability and security for the whole region."
The people of Western Sahara remain committed to the self-determination process initiated by the UN nearly 50 years ago, and have backed ever since via various resolutions and statements. For instance, we recall the security council resolved in 2002 to express "its readiness to consider any approach which provides for self-determination". It is not clear how or where Morocco’s proposal for autonomy within the Moroccan state fits in with this basic agenda. A unilateral solution to a three-decade-long conflict, as is proposed by Morocco, is not only farcical, it is an option the community of democratic nations cannot countenance.
The people of Western Sahara have been clear that we are willing to work with the Moroccan monarchy and will act without recrimination in relation to Moroccans now living in Western Sahara. We are aware we do not choose our neighbours and so we are destined to share a border. This is a form of realpolitik that makes sense at all levels. We do not seek any victories over Morocco, we only seek parity. We aim to co-operate in economic and security matters, as any decent neighbour would be expected to do.
For Morocco, the benefits of good relations with a free and democratic Western Sahara are immense. The massive costs of its military occupation have been estimated at 3% of Morocco’s GDP. Analysts suggest the military costs in keeping some 150,000 troops in the occupied territories alone is over $153bn (£92.3bn) since 1975, or around $12m (£7.2m) for every day it has occupied Western Sahara. As a result of this extraordinary outlay, Morocco has the world’s fifth highest proportional spend on its military. Moreover, the long-touted Maghreb union, which has faltered for decades on the back of the Western Saharan dispute, would at last be free of this considerable obstacle to better relations.
Quite apart from the damaging moral position Morocco maintains in Western Sahara, ending this money drain must surely be a priority for Rabat and its often impoverished people, as must the prospect of awakening the sleeping giant of North African economic unity. The UN’s way is the only way forward. A referendum on self-determination, a fundamental mechanism for all UN-mandated colonies – as Western Sahara is – is the only viable means of engendering anything like a sustainable common ground. The future of the Sahrawi people must be in their own hands, not in any institution and it is certainly not the right of an invading power, maintaining an illegal and unjust regime.
As we enter these talks we favour the open-palm approach of US president Barack Obama. We are willing to pay the price of peace as an investment in our future. That is our stated agenda going into the Vienna talks. The people of Western Sahara deserve nothing less from us, for it is peace and freedom we crave most of all.