Autonomy in the Sahara - a View from the Canary Isles

During a visit to Rabat, Lorenzo Olarte Cullen, former president of the self government of the Canary Islands (see photo to right), declared that the Canary Islands were available to host a sit-down between the parties having most to do with autonomy of Western Sahara, following the example of Spain with ETA. He also said that Algeria, the "political arm" of the Polisario must be included in such talks, for, he stated that Algeria, "via Polisario, seeks to create a "satellite State" to have an outlet on the Atlantic." (Translation mine)*

When asked why Polisario would want to engage in such talks, he said that Polisario does not have the choice and that, in such a case, Polisario would be especially isolated if an agreement were reached between Morocco and a majority of Sahraouis. "And if they were to take up their weapons again, it would be considered by the international community a terrorist organization", informs Mr. Cullen who affirmed that this would be an intolerable threat for stability in the whole area including the Canary Islands because of their geographical proximity with the Sahara.

I wonder how much he consulted with Spain before his visit to Rabat.
* I have heard in the past that Algeria wanted a port on the Atlantic, and have wondered just how true it is. There are only poor docking facilities on the Atlantic, with the possible exception of the Port of Layounne. There is no rail transit between Algeria and the Atlantic. The only other facility I am aware of is at Dakhla (formerly Villa Cisneros) and that is about 550 km south of Layounne. There are not many potential docking areas on the Western Sahara coast which are even slightly protected from storms.

Algeria: The Return of the Attacks

"Algeria knew, in these last few days, a true renewal of violence.", according to the first sentence of an article in Aujourd'hui du Maroc of 22 June 2006. It reported that at least 15 people have been killed since the beginning of June.
The killings have been ascribed mainly to the Salafist Group for Prayer and Combat (GSPC), the fundamentalist Islamic group responsible for most recent attacks. Violence in Algeria has caused between 150,000 and 200,000 deaths since 1992, according to an official assessment.
The attacks have occurred mostly is an area about 60 km to the east of Algiers, where the GSPC has a foothold and where Algerian Army units have tried to find and destroy the insurgents. The GSPC has refused to give up its arms according to terms suggested in "the charter for peace and the national reconciliation", adopted by referendum in September 2005 and implemented by ordinances, since last February.
Another Algerian newspaper, Liberte, reported that on Tuesday, June 20, the GSPC ssassinated five peasants riding home from a day's work on their cultivated fields. This especially touched me, as one of the farmers assassinated was exactly my age, 81; another dead was his younger brother. Of course, the assassins had fled by the time security forces arrives several hours later.
Then, on Friday the 23rd, GSCP launched an attack on an Army convoy in an ambush about 135 km east of the Algiers, killing six soldiers and wounding three others.
I fervently hope that the terror will ease in Algeria soon; they have had enough death and destruction to last for decades!


What's Going On in the Tindouf Camps?

The African News Dimension reported, on June 1, that all communication with the camps at Tindouf had been cut by the Algerian government, as also reported by Google News. Unfortunately, the African News Dimension only leaves their news items up for 24 hours and I missed that time frame. But Google News reported the first few lines of that story as:

"Algeria cut off, on Thursday evening, all the phone lines and means of communication with Tindouf camps, southwestern Algeria, following the popular uprisings ...".

That little snippet is very intriguing, and I tried to find more on it. The only other source I was able to find was the story reported in The Morocco Times on June 5. As several readers have complained that The Morocco Times is a government-controlled and unreliable news source, given to blatant propaganda*, I try to find independent confirmation of their stories, and believe that the African News Dimension story confirms the truth of what was reported by The Morocco Times.

The Morocco Times story says that a pro-Moroccan NGO decried "the Algerian authorities' decision to cut off phone services and electricity in the camps, as well as their unilateral cancellation of the scheduled June 2nd UN's High Commissioner for Refugees sponsored confidence-building measure of family visitations.

Concerning the African News Dimension's declaration of "popular uprisings" (see above), the Morocco Times said:

"'Last Wednesday, violent demonstrations broke out in Tindouf camps (southern Algeria) against the torture and repression of a young man, Habbadi Ould Hmimed, who opposed the separatist claims. These demonstrations, which first broke out in “27 février" and “Smara”
camps, united people of all ages; then the other camps followed suit to denounce the 'barbarous acts of the Polisario,' underlined MAP news agency, quoting a source from the camps."

"Polisario's attempt to quell the demonstrations by all possible means further fuelled the anger of the population. This led to a violent confrontation, causing a death and several serious injuries."

This is the second report of riots in the camps against the Polisario in the past two years. The last time the news was also strictly curtailed by Polisaro. Let's hope that the Sahrawi do not suffer too badly from the strong arm Algerian Security Forces!

I invite anyone with reliable news about these events to post that news here as a comment.


Land Mines in the Desert

Morocco occupied Western Sahara in 1975 and since then the country has been divided onto two parts. Morocco occupies the economically more prosperous eastern part of the country, while the resistance movement Polisario occupies the almost barren western desert part of the country. The division line is a high wall of sand, called the 'berm' (shown in red on the map to the right), cutting through the middle of Western Sahara, with Moroccan military stationed in positions spaced along the wall.

After Morocco constructed the berm, they reinforced it by burying land mines on the west side of the berm. In addition to the killing and maiming of untold numbers of innocent pastoralists, the mines have done the same for all animals which wandered over them during the past several decades. I think that such indiscriminate placement of landmines in a foreign country is a reprehensible act and deverves the damnation of the rest of the world.

I was reminded of those landmines in the Sahara by a news story from the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, describing a new effort by the UN and the Polisario to remove and destroy those mines. A convoy of volunteer-driven armored trucks, carrying mine detection and removal equipment, is on its way through Algeria to Western Sahara, where the volunteers and other experts will teach Western Saharans (Sahrawas) to find and safely remove land mines. An admirable thing to do, indeed!

Back on December 4, 1997, 121 nations signed and agreed to a UN sponsored treaty to ban the production, distribution and use of landmines. These countries also pledged $500 million to implement the treaty. They then began a global effort to remove mines from one-time battlefields around the world

My country (USA) did not sign the treaty and still has not signed it!

Mines left over from past conflicts are insidious killers. It has been estimated
that there are up to 70 million landmines scattered throughout 68 countries.
About 26,000 people are killed or maimed each year, with one injury or death every 20 minutes. Children under the age of 15 form about 30 to 40% of the casualties.

Countries with significant numbers of uncleared mines include: Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Jordan, Lebanon, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.

If you want to read more about these hidden dangers, you can go here ; additional links may be found here.

I'm BAAaaaccckkk (AGAIN!!!)

Well, the broken nose and wrist have healed, and my body has corrected the blood-loss anemia by the generation of new red blood cells, and I am returning, healed and refreshed!! I'd like to thank all of you for the 'get-well' and 'best-wishes' messages you sent after my fall.

Let's take up where we were before the accident. There had just been a terrible rainstorm in the desert which almost destroyed one of the camps near Tindouf. As you know, many of the structures were made of adobe - dried mud - which disintegrated under those blinding rainstorms. Winds made shory stories of the tent structures. Those poor people were again left without shelter and short on food. Seems to me that theyhave had ther share of poor luck since the Polisario convinced them to leave their homes in Western Sahara 30 years ago.

I tried to get photographs of the camps to post so you could see their devastation, but my accident intervened, and they never got posted.

So I start up again... Bloggin' the Maghreb...


Bouteflika Health Watch - #3

According to a news item on BBC, Algerian President Bouteflika has been readmitted to the Val de Grace hospital outside of Paris, the same hospital where a stomach ulcer was supposedly removed from him last winter. I had previously reported on his illness here, here, here and here. I believed, at the time of his initial hospitalization in France, that his condition was much more serious than reported by the Algerian government or press; in fact, a senior surgeon at another Paris hospital hypothesized that, from the length of his hospital stay and other factors, that he must have been treated for cancer.

Bouteflika was discharged at the end of December, and flew back to Algeria. Now, only 110 days later, he is back, not in some hospital an Algeria, but in the same French military hospital where he was previously treated.

Bouteflika's health status will be monitored and reported on this blog.


Sahara Endgame -- It Is becoming Clearer and Clearer

According to the Morocco Times, on 4/16, the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, said he was hopeful that a mutually acceptable solution could be reached by the concerned parties of the Sahara conflict. In his interview with the Spanish daily "ABC", Annan declared that "... the UN cannot impose any solution", adding "the fact that the UN is unable to impose any solution explains why it is intensely trying to find a mutually acceptable solution."

If the UN can not impose a solution, as Annan declared, then Morocco will ultimately achieve control of the Sahara, just by dogged determination, if nothing else. Given Annan's statement, Morocco, now in possession of the most economically viable part of Western Sahara, has only to outlast the Polisario! The only tough card the Polisario had left to play was the threat of armed conflict. And even this threat has been rendered almost fangless with the rising concerns that the Sahara could become a breeding ground for Islamic extremists and/or criminal gangs (predicted last year in a report by the European research think tank ESCSI) and with the consequent formation of the anti-terrorist multinational force TSCTI. While the US has seemed reluctant to advance a forced solution to the soverignship of Western Sahara, they certainly can not allow the desert to become a breeding ground for terrorism.

With the ongoing War on Terror, it seems that Polisario's time has passed, and they will just fade into meaninglessness. But not without some hick-ups between now and then! My great concern is the fate of those poor Sahrawi in the camps near Tindouf. It is hard to see what will become of them!


Way To Go, Laila Lalami!!

Laila Lalami, feted author of Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, announced today on her blog that she has been awarded a Fulbright Fellowship Award for 2006-2007. She plans to spend nine months living in Casablanca "conducting research on Islamic extremism and secular movements for my next book, and also volunteering for a non-profit organization that provides services to disadvantaged neighborhoods."

They could not have picked a more deserving or a more talented person for this award. I am extremely happy for her and wish her all success in her endeavors.


Polisario TV

The Polisario have launched a new TV channel for broadcasts to the Sahrawi in the camps near Tindouf. According to the report, "Polisario Television will follow events in Sahrawi areas and will point to what it describes as violations of human rights in lands that are under Moroccan control. " Initially broadcasting in Arabic, plans are to add Spanish language broadcasts soon.

From this first report, it seems that the new channel will be more of a propaganda tool than a news or entertainment station. (Reportedly, they will report on human rights violations in Morocco-held areas, but not in Polisario-held areas, nor in Algeria)

The news story did not state whether or not the Sahrawi in Western Sahara will be able to receive the new station's signals.

This is the third move by Polisario to improve its media capability. A news agency and a radio station were established in the past decade.

Starlings over Algiers

I came across this picture of starlings swarming above Algiers and loved the swirls of the swarms. Unfortunately, there were no details given, so it is being presented as-is.

Growing up, we had a birdhouse mounted on a utility pole in the backyard, and every year starlings came and nested there - rudely and violently kicking out any smaller birds who had already started nesting there. Among the other birds were bluebirds, which are quite small. Dad had put up the birdhouse hoping to lure the bluebirds in as regular visitors, but he made a mistake and cut the hole a little too large - enough so that starlings could use the birdhouse. And they did, much to Dad's continual disgust!