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Western Sahara speaker tours New Zealand

Western Sahara speaker tours New Zealand

Media Release:

Visit by Kamal Fadel, representative of Polisario Front of Western Sahara

From May 25 to June 2, Kamal Fadel, the representative of the Polisario Front of Western Sahara based in Sydney, will visit New Zealand. The Polisario Front is the organisation leading the independence struggle of the Saharawi people from Moroccan occupation. The purpose of Mr Fadel's visit is to inform people about the independence struggle in Western Sahara, provide an update on developments there and encourage support for Polisario Front projects. Mr Fadel also hopes to secure the support of the New Zealand government in international forums like the United Nations to increase pressure on the Moroccan government to accept the latest initiative for peace.

Mr Fadel will be testifying on independence for Western Sahara at the UN Seminar on Decolonisation to be held in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, 17-20 May. He has also just returned to Sydney from leading a visit by a range of dignitaries from Australia to the refugee camps in Algeria and the liberated zones of Western Sahara.

Western Sahara is on the north-west coast of Africa between Morocco and Mauritania. Although arid and largely infertile, it possesses valuable fishing resources, and deposits of minerals, oil and gas. Previously a Spanish colony, it has been occupied by Morocco since 1975, when Spain withdrew in the face of a rising independence struggle led by Polisario. The occupation has been backed by the United States, France and Spain, with Washington being the leading arms and military supplier to the Moroccan regime.

Tens of thousands of Saharawis fled the Moroccan invasion to refugee camps in the Algerian desert, where the bulk of the population lives today, and from which they have organised their struggle. Those who remain in Western Sahara continue to resist the severe repression of the Moroccan occupation.

The Saharawi people fought a war against Morocco until 1991, when both parties agreed to a United Nations-brokered ceasefire. Meanwhile, the Moroccan regime had begun building a massive sand wall to keep the Polisario Front out of Moroccan-occupied territory. Today Western Sahara is partitioned by this wall, which is 2400 kms long and surrounded by barbed wire, mines and more than 120,000 Moroccan troops.

The 1991 ceasefire was part of a peace plan that provided for a UN-brokered referendum enabling the Saharawi people to decide their sovereignty. Thirteen years later this has yet to take place, as efforts to arrange it have been sabotaged by Morocco's efforts to tie it up in red tape and argue over who is eligible to vote.

Last October, the Moroccan government rejected a further UN-brokered plan for a referendum, which Polisario had agreed to accept. The agreement, drafted by the UN envoy on Western Sahara, former U.S. secretary of state James Baker, calls for a four- to five-year period in which the Saharawi population would be resettled in Western Sahara. The territory would remain under Moroccan rule but would be granted limited autonomy. At the end of this period, a referendum could be held on independence or continued colonial rule.

Today, despite the hardships in the refugee camps, the Saharawi people have managed to establish a highly organised community, with a degree of self-sufficiency. They have planted vegetable gardens, built water reservoirs, and organised school and health facilities. Women have played a leading role in this process, including in a literacy campaign which has resulted in 90% of those in the camps being able to read and write.

The Saharawi people's main demands remain to vote in a referendum on independence, and to be able to return to live in their country.

To arrange an interview with Kamal Fadel please contact:

Annalucia Vermunt 03 3773834; 0274 222764 E-mail: annalucia@chn.quik.co.nz

Felicity Coggan 09 579 5707; 021 2613162 E-mail: fcoggan@xtra.co.nz

Tour dates:

Wellington May 25- 27; Christchurch May 27 - 29; Nelson May 29 - 30; Auckland May 30 - June 2

For more information visit www.arso.org or www.wsahara.net


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