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Western Sahara: Landmine Injures Five During Peaceful Protest

Last week, Saharawis and Spaniards stood together in solidarity against the berm (“Wall of Shame”) built between Morocco and the Western Sahara, over which Morocco claims sovereignty. The protest, dubbed the International March against the Wall of Shame, resulted in an unconfirmed number of Saharawis injured by landmines.

Blogger Sahara Ocidental, who is based in Tindouf, is one of the only bloggers discussing the incident. Prior to its inauguration, the blogger wrote:

Hundreds of Spanish visitors spent the evening hours on Thursday making final preparations for their march of protest and solidarity in front of the Moroccan-built wall that divides the Western Sahara in two.

Lunches were made, bags were packed, and orientation sessions were held to make sure that all of the participants were ready for Friday’s events, organized and coordinated by the National Union of Saharawi Women (UNMS).

These 300 Spaniards have signed up to make the two-hour trip, but several hundred more – from Germany, Italy, Great Britain, the United States, France, Austria, Portugal, El Salvador, Mexico and other countries – will be accompanying them as they demonstrate their opposition to the Moroccan occupation in the Western Sahara and the physical barrier erected between the Saharawi refugees near Tindouf, Algeria, and their family members still living in the territory occupied by Morocco.

The blogger then states that, during the protest, five Saharawis were injured when a 19-year-old accidentally detonated a landmine:

Five Saharawis were injured in Rouss Essabty on Friday, 70 km from the Saharawi refugee camps, when a 19-year-old boy stepped on a landmine.

The victims, along with 3,000 other Saharawis and international activists, were participating in a peaceful protest against the Moroccan wall that divides the Western Sahara.

The blast occurred when the five victims were attempting to approach the wall by clearing a path through a barbed wire barrier that surrounds it, which is known to the Saharawis as the Wall of Shame. Three of the victims, identified as Ibrahim Hussein Abait, Hamdi Fadli Adbelahi and Mohamed Salim Bouda Larossi, were passing through an active minefield with more than 300 other demonstrators.

Ibrahim, from the Saharawi refugee camp of Dakhla, suffered the gravest injury, losing more than half of his left foot in the explosion. Hamdi and Mohamed sustained minor burns and shrapnel wounds to their faces, arms and backs.

In February, two Saharawis were killed when a landmine detonated. The Western Sahara is known for having scores of landmines left over from conflicts dating back to World War II.

  • P zalm

    I am diappointed at you Jillian York!

    This is the type of Demagogic approach that has left the very people that the visiting Europeans are supposedly trying to help, The Sahrawis, marooned in the desert for a generation.
    instead of working to get them back to their homes, away from the clutches of Algerian Junta supported Polisario, their are helping perpetuate their misery by selling them a mirage.
    The Sahara is Morocans, The sahrawi civilians are welcome back anytime, if Polisario and algerians allows them to leave in mass.
    I think you should all work for Human Rights progress for all the people of Morocco and Algeria, including the inhabitants of Sahara Regions in Both countries.
    Frankly Spanish pseudo activists should stay at home, the certainly have no credibility to lecture anyone , their country is still occupying two Moroccan Cities, Ceuta and Millia, I don’t seem pretest there.

  • http://jilliancyork.com Jillian York

    P Zalm,

    I don’t actually take any particular stance or viewpoint in this article, I simply cover the events as they happened. People have the right to know about them, so that they can make their own judgements.

    Don’t you agree? In Morocco, people aren’t even ALLOWED to know the reality and judge for themselves; it’s banned from the papers. Do you think that’s right? I don’t.

    Jillian York

  • http://nickbrooks.wordpress.com Nick Brooks

    I see we have another Moroccan propagandist taking over from our good friend Ahmed Salem, but with exactly the same assertions and misinformation (perhaps they are one and the same). There truly is nothing new under the sun when it comes to the attempts of Rabat and its allies to misrepresent this conflict. The Moroccan government claims to be acting constructively, but pretends that Western Sahara is not partitioned, and that the Polisario-controlled areas are a buffer zone in which the Polisario has no presence.

    Morocco also consistently misrepresents the situation in the camps and underestimates their population. How can refugees be welcome to return “home” when their very existence is denied?

    Morocco claims that the people in the camps and in Western Sahara want to be Moroccan, but refuses to participate in a referendum on self-determination mandated by the United Nations. If Morocco’s claims re true, why not let people demonstrate their desire to live in a Western Sahara that is a part of Morocco? Why not? Because these claims are simple propaganda.

    P Zalm will respond to this post with claims that I do not understand the historical legitimacy of Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara because, that I am in the pay of Algeria/Polisario and under their spell. He (for I am sure he is a he) will claim that a referendum is not “appropriate”, that independence is not “realistic”, that Western Sahara could not survive as an independent state, and so on. He will accuse the Polisario of pretty much everything short of human sacrifice and cannibalism. The arguments will be the same as they always are, with the same inconsistencies and intellectual gymnastics that enable him to conclude that “self-determination” is compatible with a “solution” imposed by Morocco in the absence of the UN-mandated referendum, a solution which simply maintains the status quo and forces the people of Western Sahara into a union with Morocco or condemns them to live their lives in exile or as refugees.

    A better place to seek information on the conditions of people living in the Sahrawi refugee camps around Tindouf and under Moroccan occupation in Western Sahara is the recent report by Human Rights Watch, which can be found here:

    http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/12/19/human-rights-western-sahara-and-tindouf-refugee-camps-0

    P Zalm, I’ll leave you to your ranting.

    • MOHA

      @Nick
      the referendum is not feasible since Polisario doesn’t want all people of Sahrawi descent to vote. They agree only on the 75,000 people from the 1975 Spaniard census. In which case, the father of the current leader of Polisario will not be able to vote since he was not present in WS in 1975. The UN is not a joke when they said that the referendum is not feasible it’s because there are some real arguments behind this statement
      you really don’t understand the historical argument, you don’t just stand up and demand the formation of a country/Nation like that. No body asked the inhabitants of the southern Algerian desert if they wanna be independent or not. No body asked people in a lot of African areas and former colonial lands if they wanna be independent or if they want to change the borders between countries and you know why? Because in these areas the only real argument for the formation of a country and its borders is the colonial division. If there has been no colonization i don’t think there would be anything called western Sahara, i don’t think the borders between Algeria and Morocco would be the same.
      Frankly you have to understand the geopolitics that are behind the demands and rhetoric of these people.
      And yes no body is preventing them from returning to their lands, they are refugees by choice. A lot of people have left the camps.
      The number of people in the camps is unknown since Polisario doesn’t authorize a census because they know that there some 100,000 people at best.
      Self-determination is different from the Right to proclaim a country. If me and my family wanted to proclaim a country I think we would be given as much credential as these guys according to their definition of self-determination

    • http://lounsbury.aqoul.com The Lounsbury

      There is something deeply ironic in ranting on in a partisan manner complaining about someone else supposedly ranting on in a partisan manner.

      So now you’ve played the Photo Negative irrational Polisario image to the Moroccan ranting. Bravo. Bloody doesn’t convey much in reality.

      Rather a pity in the end that the bloody forsaken desert is actually subject to this pointless dispute over which corrupt elite gets to control it in the name of some fictive ‘popular will.’

  • TAOUFIQ GAZOULIT

    I Freedom of expression and movement in
    Tindouf refugee camps remains the main
    Issue concerning the Sahraoui refugees

    After a long reflexion, I have opted to take part in the daily discussion in this blog which apparently deal with the suffering of sahraouis in the Tindouf refugee camps, what really struck me in this blog is the fact that discussion does not seem to be up to the standards, in fact if one blogger or more seem to agree with the Moroccan thesis as to the future of the western Sahara region, he is automatically either a Moroccan propagandist or works for the Moroccan intelligence service. This attitude should disappear if we are to maintain an objective and fruitful discussion about the W.Sahara issue. It is also my view that the future of the Western Sahara issue is not going to be decided through blogs and bloggers , but the job of researchers /activists /and bloggers for that matter is to bring about facts so the blog communities make use of the content of their articles or messages . Having said that , it is almost certain that human rights seems to be the focus of the day to day sahraoui lives whether they are in the Western Sahara region or in the refugee camps in Tindouf inside Algeria . in this respect and within the framework of visits organized by the Minorso between Sharaouis in Tindouf and the main towns of western Sahara region is that last week or so ten young Sahrawi students who went to Laayoune to visit their relatives refused to fly back to tindouf and therefore opted to remain where they believe they belong . None of the bloggers who are active in terms of Western Sahara issue have thought of the real reasons behind the phenomenon of Sahraouis in Tindouf camps who are continuously fleeing Tindouf camps to settle down mainly in the W Sahara region.
    to me the whole truth is with those sahraouis who keep leaving the refuge camps and go to the western Sahara region, and this phenomenon is happening often, just for the sake of argument a dozen of young Sahraou students left Tindouf to visit their families in the Western Sahara region and refused to go back to tindouf last week, now there must be a reason for their decision to stay in W Sahara region.
    The vital question about the human rights practices inside the Tindouf four camps is the freedom of expression and even of movement. although Polisario officials confirm every now and then that sahraoui refugees are allowed to leave the camps any time they would like to do so , sahraouis need Algerian documents if they decide to leave and travel abroad, to get such document is not easy, unless you are a Polisario official or you have useful contacts within the sphere of Polisario leadership, but it is known that any saharoui who managed to leave the refugee camp and opt to go to western Sahara region , Moroccan authorities provide the person in question with necessary documents including a passport .
    According to the report by the European strategic intelligence and security ( ESISC) , lack of democracy and an oppressive climate under the leadership of the Polisario front, has led to several members leaving the refugee camps in Tindouf, most of them joined Morocco, and the rest opt for to go either to Mauritania, Spain, or to other European countries .
    To make sure that Sahraoui refugees, whether they are free or not to leave the camps in Tindouf Human rights Watch interviewed tens of Sahraouis , and asked them questions such as whether they used the official border crossing or took a clandestine route ; whether they told others of their plans or intended destination . according to the latest report of Human rights watch, of December, 2008, under the title “Human rights in western Sahara and the Tindouf refugee camps” former camp residents now living in western Sahara region confirmed that when they left the camps they concealed their ultimate destination, fearing that Polisario would block their departure if it became known”(human rights report , december , 2008) these same individuals for the most part said they kept their plans secret from others in the camps. They said they did so not only out of fear that the Polisario might prevent them from leaving, but also because the prevailing feeling in the camps is that is shameful to opt for life ” under Moroccan occupation” “They taught us to hate Morocco from when we were young, that the Moroccans would torture and mistreat you” said a former Polisario official who left the camps by the end of 2006 and settled in Al-Ayoun , and this is how he left according to a statement he made to Human rights watch : ” I left my wife , child, and six other relatives , in a truck . The owner of the truck is an officer in the security forces. When we reached the border post, he talked to the guards, and there was no problem; my parents and brothers are still in the camps, they have suffered no reprisals, because we left. The authorities came to my father and asked where i went, and he answered Mauritania, and that was it. (human rights watch interview, El –Ayoun, march 8, 2008 . The source asked to remain anonymous, fearing reprisals against family members who where still inn the refugee camps)
    Hamra checkpoint, the main Algerian- Mauritanian border point, is a long drive on extremely difficult roads from the main cluster of refugee camps in Tindouf. Polisario and Algerian guards the checkpoint, registering the ID’s of drivers and passengers, sahraouis told human rights watch, if the guards asked the reason for their travel, sahraouis leaving for Moroccan controlled areas have to lie, explaining that they were travelling to Mauritania to visit relatives or for other purposes. The guards then allowed them to pass. Some Sahraoui refugees in Tindouf said that they have to obtain an authorization from the Polisario leadership headquarters in Rabouni camp to leave only to Mauritania; others said they got the approval at the border, provided they mention that they are actually going for a visit to Mauritania.
    Yeslim Ould Ismail Ould el-Melkhi, a pharmacist, who left the Tindouf camps in April 2007, put it this way: “ it is pretty chaotic situation in the camps . Everybody is preoccupied with trying to provide for his basic needs, if you want to leave, you just make the necessary arrangements, and you head for the Hamra checkpoint. You show your ID, they write your name down, and they let you pass. They understand the problems that people face in the camps. You must not tell them you are going to Morocco, but otherwise they do not care if you leave “(human rights watch interview with Yeslim ould el-Melkhi, foum el –oued , march 5, 2008)
    Abdellah Mala’ainine, who left the camps for Morocco in 2006, also said that leaving was not hard, provided you keep being discreet about your destination: “you keep the fact that you might want to go to Morocco to yourself, otherwise you might be seen as inciting others” ( human rights watch interview with Abdullah Mala’ainine, El –Ayoun , march 5, 2008)
    Another possible way to leave the Tindouf refugee camps is the UN –administered program of family visits. This program involves flying Sahraoui families from the Moroccan- administered zone to the Tindouf refugee camps and vice versa, for visits lasting five days. According to statistics provided by the UNHCR, the program arranged visits for 6638 sahraouis between its launch on March 2004 and October 3, 2008. Almost half of this total traveled from the Tindouf camps to the Moroccan –controlled territory, had chosen to remain rather than return, according to the UNHCR. (Human rights watch telephone interview with Sergio call- Norena, UNHCR chief of operators for the Western Sahara, may 9, 2008 . Calle- Norena left this post later 2008).
    The process of defection from the Tindouf camps and rallying to Morocco started in practical terms at the end of the fighting, hundreds of sahraoui refugees have decided to leave Tindouf and to return to Morocco, among them political and military leaders, head of tribes, and hundreds of Polisario army officers of all levels. This situation, which is due in part to the failure to reach a settlement as well as the realities of the four refugee camps in the Tindouf area, has led to what many Sahraouis denounce as the concentration of power in thee hands of few political stagnation, and lack of transparency , freedom of speech and movement, in this respect the brother of El Ouali Ould Mustapha Sayed, the Polisario’s first secretary general expressed on 31 October 2006 serious misgivings about the current leadership : “ many sahraoui officials alongside of simple soldiers, fled to Morocco because they could no longer stand the chaotic, static, and unjust status quo …. Some even say that this exodus towards Morocco and other destinations suits the Polisario’s leadership and that, in some ways, they encourage it. This because the Polisario’s leadership refuses to change its practices, reviews its policies and positions, or responds to the totality or at least to the majority of its critic’s claims”( see “arretons l’hemorragie” at http://www.arso.org/opinions/baba Sayed38.htlm)
    Although the Polisario is making sure that no refugee is allowed to flee the Tindouf camps particularly to Morocco, it seems that the number has increased over the five years or so , in this respect it is worth mentioning the following among others , as nearly one hundred Sahraouis have returned to Morocco during the last week of February 2008 to Morocco from Tindouf camps , three groups consisting of several persons that took part in Gjijimat congress held during December 2008 in Tifariti region, in the Sahara, these refugees accompanied with 20 children, arrived in the border town of El Karkrat ( 380 km south of Dakhla), in response to the late Hassan ii call “ homeland clement and merciful”, convinced , according to their statements, that the Moroccan autonomy initiative in he region of the Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty offers promising prospects that meet the aspirations of the region’s people and the consecration of unity and development . Some of these of people expressed their joy and happiness to have returned to the motherland and their support to the autonomy project proposed by Morocco. They said that their return to the motherland is part of the renewal of their allegiance to his majesty king Mohammed vi ( a french- speaking daily “ aujourd(hui le Maroc” reported on wednsday 27/12/2007)
    The number of sahraoui political, military and tribe leaders in addition to hundreds of families who opted to regain Morocco is increasing; according to the Chairman of the royal advisory council for Saharan affairs Khali Hena Ould Errachid around six thousands of sahraouis have regained Morocco. Reports coming on daily basis from the Tindouf refugee camps describe the deteriorating social and economic situations in addition to the lack of freedom of expression and movement , in this context the chairman of CORCAS made it clear that Morocco is determined to bring back home all refugees .(see:www.corcas.com)

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