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Kicking Western Saharan sand in Sarkozy's face

Kicking Western Saharan sand in Nicolas Sarkozy's face

By Emhamed Khadad

France's clamour for an EU-Mediterranean trade partnership ignores Morocco's illegal annexation of a neighbour, writes a leader of Polisario.

On the face of it, French President Nicolas Sarkozy's vision of a Europe-Mediterranean trade body makes perfect sense – most obviously for the EU. EU exports already account for a major share of overall economic activity in the Maghreb. An economically developed region would open up a market of 75 million-plus consumers. A common market would also unlock the barriers to intra-Maghreb trade, which remains a trickle.

But the barriers remain high. One such is the 2,700 km-long sand wall, known as the Berm, running through Western Sahara and southern Morocco.

The wall, and what it stands for, represents the greatest single obstacle to free trade in the Maghreb. Since 1975, the region, home to a distinct indigenous population known as Sahrawis, has become an illegal annex of Morocco.

The kingdom has nimbly trimmed and manoeuvred since a UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991, ensuring much is said, but that the awful status quo remains unchanged. UN resolutions – roughly three a year – come and go, confirming the right of Sahrawis to self-determination. So do countless official admonitions.

Eighty countries recognise Western Sahara as an independent entity. No country, France included, formally recognises Morocco's illegal occupation of Western Sahara. Its rich resources include above all fish and phosphates.
Of this, Western Sahara sees nothing at all.

France's openly pro-Morocco stance is a hindrance to better relations between Morocco and Algeria, the region's economic powerhouses (accounting for some 68% of its gross domestic product and half its exports), which are diametrically opposed on the Western Sahara issue.
It is improbable that France's Euromed initiative will do anything other than entrench the occupation, which goes to the heart of the region's disharmony.

Paris's continued tacit support is evidenced by its praise of Morocco's flawed autonomy proposal, and by sales to the kingdom in October of 25 Puma helicopters, 140 armoured vehicles, and hi-tech border surveillance equipment.

This lack of even-handedness will ensure the mooted free trade agreement turns quickly to dust. A recently signed regional investment agreement already looks destined to become snagged in the complexities surrounding Western Sahara. The Polisario strongly supports a regional trade bloc and believes, too, that Morocco can be a winner when Western Sahara achieves its full independence.

The Sahrawis have offered to negotiate sharing natural resources and have agreed to let Moroccan settlers stay and work in a future independent state. Sarkozy's failure to prepare this initiative by proposing a workable solution to the Western Sahara issue means he has failed the first test of statesmanship: successfully marrying the possible with the hoped-for.


Emhamed Khadad is a member of the leadership of the Polisario, Western Sahara‘s independence movement, and is its co-ordinator with the United Nations.

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