- The independence movement of Western Sahara, Polisario, in Algeria has announced the forthcoming of further 300 Moroccan prisoners of war. Today, the international committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent sent a delegation to the Saharawi camps in Tindouf to prepare the repatriation.
Polisario Secretary-General Mohamed Abdelaziz yesterday announced that his movement was to release another group of Moroccan prisoners of war. The repatriation of this group of 300 prisoners was to commence in the western Algerian camps today, Mr Abdelaziz said.
The announcement of the prisoners' liberation coincided with President Abdelaziz' visit to Algiers, were he met with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to discuss recent developments in the Saharawi-Moroccan conflict. Algeria has been Polisario's firmest ally during the 28 years of Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara.
According to the Polisario leader, the liberation of the prisoners of war was a result of humanitarian motives and an intervention of the Libyan leader, Moamar Ghadafi, who had asked for the liberation of some prisoners at this moment to mark the celebration of the holy month of Ramadan.
The Moroccan prisoners of war - some have prevailed in the Saharawi camps for more than two decades - have been a continued embarrassment for the Saharawi authorities. Earlier this year, a report indicated that the prisoners have been victims of torture and ill-treatment, something that has been strongly denied by Polisario.
By now, the Saharawi authorities have liberated some 1600 Moroccan prisoners of war, but an estimated 600 prisoners still remain in the impoverished Saharawi refugee camps in western Algeria. Since the treatment of the prisoners had been questioned earlier this year, Polisario seems to have speeded up their liberation.
In Morocco, meanwhile, an estimated 150 Polisario prisoners of war still remain in prison while some 500 Saharawis have disappeared, according to Mr Abdelaziz. Morocco denies the existence of Saharawi prisoners of war, but the UN repeatedly urges both Moroccan and Saharawi authorities to free all remaining prisoners.
Polisario leader Abdelaziz in Algiers meanwhile updated President Bouteflika on the UN led peace process. According to the current peace plan, the Saharawis are to return to the occupied territory and live under Polisario autonomy during five years, when they, together with Moroccan immigrants, are to decide over independence in a referendum.
The so-called Baker plan has been accepted, under protest, by Polisario and warmly defended by the Algerian government. The Moroccan government however still refuses to accept the Baker plan. Presidents Abdelaziz and Bouteflika are now believed to jointly outline a new strategy on how to regain momentum in the peace process.
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