In the framework of the right to answer, I am pleased to bring the following clarifications and amendments to the opinion piece titled “Western Sahara and the pretext of the Arab Maghreb Union,” published on Nov. 25, 2020, in Daily Sabah.
I wish to begin by emphasizing that the present piece of opinion is not just the expression of my point of view on the conflict in the Moroccan Sahara. But it is also backed with facts in full conformity with international law, the U.N. Charter and the resolutions of both the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) and the U.N. Security Council (UNSC). I wrote this piece as a contribution to further enlighten the Turkish public opinion on the question of the Moroccan Sahara. To do so, I will be readdressing facts on the historical and field levels.
Firstly, taking note of how the Kingdom of Morocco cherishes political dialogue and peace, the Arab Maghreb Union was only one of the many expressions of the Moroccan constructive commitment to unity. The union was established in the Moroccan city of Marrakech, where the leaders of the five member states gathered in February 1989. Notwithstanding the current state of the union and the reasons behind it, I find it crucial to express my astonishment at how the article links success of the union to the Moroccan sovereign actions in the Sahara.
On the one hand, it is but obvious that, contrary to this shallow assumption, only Morocco’s actions, based on its right over all its territory, can ensure the stability and security in the region, both prerequisites for this regional gathering to accomplish the political and economic unity for which it was intended.
On the other hand, Morocco’s actions are not motivated by any hidden will to go along with any foreign agenda. In fact, the only foreign institution that the Kingdom of Morocco recognizes as competent in ruling over the matter is the United Nations, for its international and global mandate.
The article also brought to the table an unfounded assumption that “the Western Sahara has never been part of Morocco.” Whereas the International Court of Justice (ICJ) clearly stated on Oct. 16, 1975, that the Sahara region was not a “terra nullius” (meaning a no man's land) before its colonization by Spain. Indeed, it stressed the existence of allegiance ties between the sultan of Morocco and the Sahrawi tribes.
Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that the Kingdom of Morocco experienced its own model of colonization and decolonization, in contrast to the other usual forms present during that period of time in Africa and also around the world. In fact, in 1912, the Kingdom of Morocco was split into several zones of colonization.
Four decades later the Kingdom of Morocco engaged a series of negotiated international agreements with the different colonial powers to start gradually recovering its territorial integrity:
• The center and north of Morocco in 1956;
• Tarfaya in 1958;
• Sidi Ifni 1969;
• Agreement of Madrid in 1975 that ended the colonial presence in the Sahara region after the ICJ statement on the ties of the Sahara with the Moroccan sultans.
With respect to the Moroccan Initiative for Negotiating an Autonomy Status for the Sahara Region, it was proposed by Morocco after the three-year political deadlock due to fundamental disagreements between Morocco and the “polisario” (backed by regional countries), on both the 2001 plan (framework agreement) and the 2003 peace plan, by James Baker, the then-U.N. personal envoy to the Western Sahara.
Thus, this initiative came to light, under the wise leadership of his majesty, King Mohammed VI, and in response to the UNSC calls, on April 11, 2007. Based on compromise, it has since been supported and welcomed by many states and qualified as “serious and credible” by the UNSC, which definitely buried the referendum option. This recognition is not fortuity: The Moroccan initiative is one that guarantees to the populations of the region to run their affairs democratically through legislative, executive and legal bodies. It also ensures those populations are endowed with financial resources in order to contribute to the development of the region and of all Morocco, in all fields (economy, culture and social life).
This serious and credible initiative paved for several UNSC resolutions, the last of which was Resolution 2548 adopted by the UNSC on Oct. 30, 2020, that brought a triple message of clarity, firmness and consistency.
• Clarity in the definition of the real parties to this regional dispute, the identification of the finality and the course of the political process. Indeed, the resolution does not contain any reference to the referendum, while it refers six times to the political solution. Those who continue to refer to the referendum option are not in line with the U.N. resolutions, which embody both international legality and express the will of the international community;
• Firmness concerning respect for the cease-fire and the end of acts of provocation and destabilization;
• Consistency in the preservation of Morocco's achievements, in particular the Moroccan autonomy initiative as the basis of any political solution and the parameters of realism, pragmatism and compromise, which characterize this initiative.
Speaking of the UNSC resolutions on the matter, I find myself compelled to stress, under the recent events in El Guergarate international crossing, that since its Resolution 2414 of 2018, the UNSC asked the "polisario" to carry out an immediate withdrawal from the buffer zone of El Guergarat and to refrain from engaging in such destabilizing acts, which could jeopardize the political process.
However, since Oct. 21, 2020, the “polisario” demonstrated grave provocations, with heavily armed elements, by:
• Blocking El Guergarat international crossing border, holding civilians, including women and children, as hostages;
• Destroying the road linking Morocco to Mauritania;
• Openly calling for war and actions aiming at modifying the legal and historical status of the area located east and south of the Moroccan defense system.
These actions, fully documented by MINURSO, aimed at blocking El Guergarat crossing that has no military objective and is only open to civilian and commercial traffic. It is a vital crossing for the whole West African region.
Before such harm to the regional peace and security and after having observed maximal restraint toward these grave provocations and having been constantly alerting the UNSC and the U.N. Secretary-General through no fewer than seven official letters and daily demarches, Morocco found itself bound to fulfill its responsibilities by launching an operation that lasted about two hours, within the framework of its prerogatives and international legality.
It is of the utmost importance to note that the Moroccan operation was a nonoffensive military operation with no belligerent intent that has followed clear rules of engagement, prohibiting any contact with civilians and reserving the use of weapons to self-defense only. It aimed at securing the movement of persons and goods between Morocco and Mauritania, by setting up a safe corridor in the area. No casualties were recorded during this operation.
During a phone call with the U.N. secretary-general, on Nov. 16, 2020, his majesty, King Mohammed VI, asserted that Morocco remains firmly committed to the cease-fire, determined to react with the utmost severity and within the framework of legitimate defense, against any threat to security and the peace of its citizens and finally will continue to support the U.N. secretary-general's efforts within the framework of the political process.
The Moroccan operation at El Guergarat international crossing, which lasted a few hours with no casualties, scored a remarkable quorum in the international scene hailing the Moroccan efforts to reinstate security to this important international crossing (not only for Morocco, but also for many other African countries).
The Republic of Turkey, from its highest levels, expressed without reservation its full and entire commitment to, support of and alignment with Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara and its territorial integrity.
Finally, this opinion piece would not be complete if insight is not given on the undeniable development witnessed by the southern provinces, a milestone in the process of completing the territorial integrity of Morocco, especially during the two decades of the reign of his majesty, King Mohammed VI.
Indeed, and thanks to the impetus given by his majesty, King Mohammed VI, major development projects in the Moroccan Sahara demonstrate the climate of peace and stability prevailing in the region and its importance as a vital magnet for investment. Not intending exhaustivity, we shall cite the project of the port of Dakhla Atlantique to ensure maritime services to Casablanca, Tangier and Las Palmas, but also to Dakar and the ports of the Gulf of Guinea, the project of a 1,000-kilometer expressway between Tiznit and Dakhla and the project of the university hospital and medical school of Laayoune. Those are just a few examples of Morocco's commitment toward accelerated socioeconomic integration in our southern provinces.
Meanwhile, the Moroccan diplomatic machine has made the international dynamic of support for the “Marocanity” of the Sahara a top priority of its agenda across the globe. This support is a continuous success story with the erosion of recognition of the puppet "republic." Up to now, 164 countries around the world do not recognize the so-called "sadr."
Over the last months, this new dynamic has allowed the opening of consulates general by African and Arab countries – an act of those countries’ sole sovereign decision to express their confirmation of the irreversibility of Morocco’s sovereignty on this territory. Other countries from different parts of the world expressed their intention to open their consular missions in Laayoune and Dakhla, in the coming months.
The sovereign decisions by many countries to open consulates general in our southern provinces prove once more the vitality of the Moroccan Sahara, as an important regional economic hub and a strategic link with sub-Saharan Africa. It’s also a strong acknowledgement that the Kingdom of Morocco is a viable partner on the regional, continental and international levels.
*Press-attache of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco to the Republic of Turkey
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