Letters to the Editor on Western Sahara

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Below are a series of Letters to the Editor that appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post.

 

The Freedom Fighters of Western Sahara

 

The following letter appeared in the New York Times on February 12, 1978.

 

To the Editor:

The proposed sale of $100 million worth of military equipment to Morocco, including 24 OV-10 armed reconnaissance aircraft and 24 Cobra helicopters, should be stopped by Congress. This equipment is for use by Morocco against the Polisario liberation movement in Western Sahara.

In late 1975, Spain, at that time the colonial ruler, partitioned Western Sahara between Morocco and Mauritania. This act was clearly a denial of the right to self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. The Moroccan and Mauritanian claims of sovereignty over Western Sahara are not substantiated. In May 1975, a United Nations mission to Western Sahara concluded:

"Within the territory, the mission noted that the population, or at least all those persons encountered by the mission, were categorically for independence and against the territorial claims of Morocco and Mauritania. The Frente Polisario, although considered a clandestine movement before the mission's arrival, appeared as the dominate political force in the territory."

Further, in October 1975, the World Court ruled that there was no historical tie of sovereignty between Western Sahara and Morocco or Mauritania.

The war for independence in Western Sahara has already caused much hardship. Virtually the entire population of the territory has fled to Polisario-run refugee camps in Algeria. Yet despite the desires of the population of Western Sahara, the United States has greatly increased its military aid to Morocco from $14 million in 1975 to $30 million in 1976, and now, once again, an increase.

If the Carter Administration is series about supporting human rights and the right of people to self-determination, then it will end all military assistance to Morocco and Mauritania. At the same time it will assist its professed goal of cutting down the amount of international arms sales.

 

Richard Knight

American Committee on Africa

New York, Jan. 31, 1978

 

 

What the Western Saharans Want and What They Deserve

 

The following letter appeared in the New York Times on September 19, 1979.

 

To the Editor:

 

Having recently spent several weeks among the refugees from Western Sahara in their camps in Algeria as well as in Western Sahara itself, we would like to comment on the Sept. 6 letter from Stephen Davis.

Mr. Davis applies emotion-filled words - "brigands," "Bandits," "murderers," "savage" - to describe those who made up the Polisario movement fighting for the right to self-determination in Western Sahara. We wonder what, if any, contact Mr. Davis has had with Polisario. If he has any, his experience is a direct opposite of ours.

We crossed the Sahara from Algeria to the Atlantic in Land-Rivers with Polisario guerrillas. Under these conditions, you get well acquainted with those whose food, water and blankets you share in the rough living conditions of the desert. Our Polisario companions, sometimes numbering 20 or more, were always considerate. As devout Moslems they prayed at various times during the day. There was never any bickering or complaining. And they were particularly desirous of developing a good relationship with the United States.

Two additional points:

We were deeply impressed by the effective organization of the Sahara refugees, who may number as many of 100,000, in their camps in Algeria. These are people who fled their country in 1975 and early 1976, when Morocco began its military occupation following Spain's departure. People were not forced to leave by Polisario but by indiscriminate Moroccan bombing. With assistance from a cross section of countries and international organizations, they effectively deal with their own problems of food, clothing, health, shelter and community organization. We saw no evidence of theft or crime in the tent camps. Where does Mr. Davis get the information on which he bases his false claim that these people are murderers?

Mr. Davis and those who support his views are increasingly isolated in looking at Western Sahara as part of Morocco prior to Spain's occupation a century ago. The International Court of Justice rejected this view in 1975. A visiting mission of the United Nations at about the same time found the people "categorically" opposed to Morocco's territorial claims. The recent meeting of the Organization of African Unity passed a resolution defining the issue of Western Sahara as one of decolonization and by a two-thirds majority called for a referendum under international supervision to let the people decide their own future. Even Mauritania voted for the resolution in spite of the fact that Spain supposedly had ceded the southern part of Sahara to Mauritania in February 1976. Mauritania has since signed a peace agreement with Polisario renouncing all claims to Western Sahara.

The United States, which has had a close relationship Morocco, would be doing a disservice to itself and to its North African ally by agreeing to military assistance which would extend the war. The United States should use its influence on Morocco to urge acceptance of a decolonization process that gives the Sahara people the right of self-determination.

 

George M. Houser

Richard Knight

New York, September 12, 1979

The writers are, respectively, executive director and literature director of the American Committee on Africa.

 

Don't Sell Arms to Morocco

 

The following letter appeared in the Washington Post on November 23, 1979.

 

I must take strong exception to your editorial supporting the recent decision by the Carter administration to sell arms to Morocco. Morocco wants these weapons, OV10 counterinsurgency aircraft and Cobra helicopters, for use against the Polisario in their illegitimate effort to annex Western Sahara.

King Hassan did not "stumble into staking his prestige" on Western Sahara. In May 1975 a United Nations mission consisting of Iran (under the shah), Ivory Coast and Cuba visited the area. The mission concluded that within the territory the population was overwhelmingly for independence and against the territorial claims of Morocco. It further concluded that the Polisario were the dominate political force. And in November 1975 the International Court of Justice ruled that, contrary to Morocco's claims, the people of Western Sahara had the right to self-determination and independence. Yet it was after these two events that King Hassan launched his Saharan adventure with the "Green March," a massive exercise that must by all accounts have been long in planning.

Morocco has long had territorial ambitions far beyond its borders.. In the past, it has claimed not only all of Western Sahara, but half of Mauritania and Algeria. While the government has officially given up these claims, the major Moroccan political party has not.

The Organization of African Unity at its summit in July passed by a large majority a resolution in support of a referendum in Western Sahara giving the people the choice between integration into Morocco and independence. This could be a promising move if it were not for Morocco's refusal to allow a referendum to take place. Yet even this moderate solution is likely to be soon out of date. Twenty African countries recognize the Polisario-formed government, the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic.

While the United States is showing King Hassan its "friendship" by selling his country arms, most of the rest of Africa view it as a slap in the face. This includes countries like Nigeria, Zambia, Botswana and Kenya, as well as some with a more socialist orientation.

The issue is not, as The Post claims, King Hassan. The issue is self-determination. The people of Western Sahara have the right to self-determination. The United States should support that right. Congress should use its power to block this unwise sale of weapons to Morocco.

 

Richard Knight

Literature Director

American Committee on Africa

 

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