afrol News, 5 June - In the first of a series of interviews, Emhamed Khadad, Polisario's Coordinator to the UN Mission for a Referendum in Western Sahara, tells afrol News about the secret agendas behind the window-dressing of international diplomacy in the matter of Sahrawi self-determination. "It really smells somewhat rotten," Khadad confesses.
Khadad was on a three-day visit to the Norwegian capital Oslo - not casually - Norway is at the moment one of the distinguished nations that might influence the future of the Sahrawi people's struggle for independence, having a temporary seat in the UN Security Council. The afrol editors asked Khadad whether he had made his visit only because of this fact.
- I was here twelve months ago and the Sahrawi Minister of the Presidency was here four months ago, the diplomat answers, underlining that high Polisario officials normally visit Norway two-three times a year. "Norway is important; in the Security Council and in the European framework," Khadad affirms. "We have always maintained an insisted on promoting the relations with Norway. Now, we also have Norway present in the Security Council. This is another reason to be more present in Oslo."
Asked whether he had achieved any concrete results in his many meetings with Norwegian politicians, Khadad answers that Norway has "had a very respectable position" in the latest discussions in the Security Council, meaning the country was one of the ten voting against the US- and French-supported "Framework Agreement", which proposes to make Western Sahara an autonomous Moroccan province. "The Norwegian government has reaffirmed its support to a solution mutually accepted by both parties to me," Khadad said - meaning Norway still will oppose the "Framework Agreement".
So far the diplomatic work in Norway, assuring that an old "ally" in a temporary important position remains in line with Sahrawi positions. Our general impression over the last year had however been that Morocco, with its new King Mohammed VI and his "modern" image, was slowly gaining the upper hand in the scramble over international diplomatic support.
afrol News: It seems like the new Moroccan King is managing to achieve a lot of diplomatic successes, regarding the Western Sahara question?
Khadad seems to be surprised by the question. "In which way?" he asks.
- Only two weeks ago, the Dominican Republic nullified its recognition of the Sahrawi Republic (as almost thirty countries have done over the last decade) during a visit of the Dominican President to Morocco.
The Sahrawi top diplomat smiles - naturally. "One has to add that at the same time, the Republic of East Timor recognised the Sahrawi Democratic Republic," he says, smiling even more relaxed. "So it's really one to one," he continues, interrupted by laughter.
But he quickly turns serious. "But, really, I'm not looking at this as a calculation. Recognising is one thing and abandon one's recognition is another thing. I think that in practical terms one cannot nullify a recognition because a new government decides to do so," Khadad deduces. "The recognition has been done once and for all."
However, the number of states officially recognising the Sahrawi Republic (close to 70 at the moment), turned out not to be of much importance, following Khadad's inference. Polisario and the Sahrawi Republic was acting as a sovereign nation in practical terms, even as the state only functioned based in refugee camps.
- Americans, Frenchmen, Russians and soldiers from 30 nations are sleeping in the liberated zone, under the jurisdiction of Sahrawi soldiers, of Polisario soldiers. There exists no more recognition than this!
The question was of support for Morocco or support for the Polisario, Khadad lectured. "The most significant is to have ten [of 15] countries in the Security Council against the ["Framework Agreement"] project, which was introduced in April," he emphasises. "This really gives an idea of the pro and contra balance at an international level."
We didn't want to let go of the issue of the large number of small nation withdrawing their recognitions. "Is it a question of a Moroccan campaign?"
Khadad wants to differentiate his answer, giving a lighter verdict on the African nations withdrawing their recognition than on others - understandable, as one of the main diplomatic battlefields where the Sahrawi Republic has gained a big victory is the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Morocco is the only African non-member country as it is protesting the OAU's recognition of the Sahrawi Republic.
In Africa, the withdrawals of recognition had been the result of "a campaign by [the French President Jacques] Chirac in person during 1996-97," Khadad holds. "He wanted the OUA Summit in Burkina Faso to abandon the recognition of the Sahrawi Republic. This was the aim of the actions taken against the positions of Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Congo, Benin, etc." But the pressure resulted in "a total failure" in the OAU Summit in Burkina Faso, even if many individual countries had withdrawn their recognition.
French pressure had been high, Khadad informed. "The French told countries like Guinea-Bissau that they had to abandon their recognition of the Sahrawi Republic to be integrated in the Western African monetary union," which - before the euro - was bound to the French franc.
When it came to Latin American countries, however, the story was different, and Khadad was more willing to use superlatives. Direct Moroccan "pressure and lobbying" had had a different effect outside Africa.
- Effectively, I see it as lamentable that a Head of State, after declaring his position in his own capital, has to go to Morocco; to make his declaration in Morocco, Khadad says while a broadening smile again turns to laughter, "as if he in reality was paid when he declares it in Morocco." The laughter continues. "This really smells somewhat rotten."
However, the Sahrawi struggle has some of its fiercest opponents on the African continent. Senegal has repeatedly stated its firm support to Morocco, especially under the new administration of President Abdoulaye Wade; an otherwise popular Panafricanist. "What is happening between Sahara and Senegal lately?" we asked Khadad.
- Well, one shouldn't forget that Senegal is the number one lackey of French Western Africa policies, Khadad immediately answers, adding that "the axis Paris-Rabat-Dakar always has been present." He reminds us that when the Sahrawi-Moroccan war began in 1975, the French air force departed from its Dakar base when bombing Sahrawi combatants. "It's nothing new, so to say."
Khadad, now less diplomatic, holds that "Senegal and Morocco have always had an expansionist policy against Western Sahara and Mauritania and have - as a dream in some part of their mentality - the desire to have a common border one day, allotting the southern, black part of Mauritania to Senegal and the Arab and Berber part to Morocco."
South Africa is another major player on the African continent. Within one month, the next OAU summit will be held in the South African city of Durban, and President Thabo Mbeki will be the host. South Africa however never has recognised the Sahrawi Republic, and the local press is already presenting it as a problem for Mbeki to receive the Sahrawi delegation, we inform the Sahrawi diplomat.
Khadad comments that there are no problems at all between the Sahrawi Republic - which has an office in Pretoria - and South Africa. "We are founding members of the OAU, and we have no problems," he says, adding that "South Africa is behaving much better than many countries that have recognised us."
He is back to his original point; that the formal recognition is of less importance - as the Sahrawi relations with Norway (also a non-recogniser) and South Africa demonstrate. The recognition cat-and-mouse-game does not affect the actual support Polisario gets in the international forums where matters of importance are decided. "South Africa is one of the most faithful defenders of the Sahrawi case in the African and non-allied scenes," he affirms.
- The battle is not exclusively diplomatic, Khadad explains. He is more disposed of seeing "the Moroccan flop of, after 27 years, not having been able to capture the hearts of the Sahrawis." He reminds of the suffering of the Sahrawi refugees in the Algerian desert and the hardships of Sahrawis living under Moroccan occupation. "Despite all the means used by the Moroccans, the visits of the King, the promises, the so-called investments and the attempts of influencing the Sahrawi culture, the result is a big failure!"
- This is our biggest success and Morocco's biggest fiasco, Khadad concludes, "that after 27 years - with all the attempts by the Moroccan military machinery, with the budget they uphold to maintain more than 120,000 soldiers at the defence wall in Western Sahara and all the investments on the diplomatic front - until now, Morocco doesn't dare to let the Sahrawis decide themselves about their future [in a referendum] below international auspices."
By afrol editors Rainer Chr. Hennig and Pablo Gracia