Sahrawi youth push for referendum

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Sidi Omar narrates the suffering of Sahrawian people to fellow youths during the World Youth and Student Festival in Quito, Ecuador, that took place on December 6 to 13.

QUITO, Ecuador – The youths representing the Sahrawi people in Western Sahara, a territory that remains under the administration of Morocco, again took their plight to the World Youth and Student Festival in Ecuador hoping their voice there would attract global attention.

“There is so much suffering and loss of life because of the Moroccan occupation. The occupation has erected a wall over the Sahrawi, cordoning of the areas occupied by Moroccans that are often areas with natural resources. For these reasons I am inviting [all world youth] to join the campaign against the wall,” said Sidi Omar, a youth leader who led the group of youth from the Western Sahara to the festival that ended on December 13. The Sahrawi Republic was represented by the Minister of Vocational Training and Public Function Khira  Bellahi, the Minister of Youth and Sports, Mohammed Moloud Mohammed Fadel, and Sahrawi Ambassador to Venezuela and Ecuador, Mohamed Salem Daha.

Their plea came just after Namibia had sent a 38-member  delegation to Algeria to hand humanitarian aid to women and children living in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf. The delegation visited the Sahrawi refugee camps from December 6 to 9.

Katrina Hanse-Himarwa, who was part of the delegation, said the United Nations and the African Union should speed up the decolonisation of Western Sahara by implementing international law and accelerating the organisation of a free and democratic referendum of self-determination for the Sahrawi people.

This year’s month of October marked exactly 37 years since Morocco sent its army into Western Sahara to attack the resident nationalist movement the Polisario Front. University academic, Phanuel Kaapama, who was also accompanied Namibian youth to Ecuador, earlier said there is a need for the people of Western Sahara to be given a chance to express themselves through means of a referendum in order to “sort out this issue once and for all”. Local analysts and politicians have also been saying President Hifikepunye Pohamba must use the AU to enlist other African statesmen to push for a referendum in Western Sahara.

Omar narrated how soldiers have been manning the 2000-kilometre wall erected around the Sahrawi people at every 5-kilometre interval, and of how Morocco mines the phosphate and fish from the Western Sahara territory with very little benefits to the Sahrawian people. “Phosphate mined from the Western Sahara now makes Morocco the number one phosphate mine, not to mention the fishing of fish and exports without any benefits to the Sahrawi people,” said Omar adding that besides so much discussion very little has been done. This is even though the United Nations has seen the cultural impact of the dividing wall, as the Sahrawian people no longer meet.

The Namibian delegation to the Algerian refugee camps comprised of Hanse-Himarwa, Swapo Party Women’s Council (SPWC) Secretary Petrina Haingura, the Pan-African Women’s Organisation: Southern Africa Regional Office (PAWO-SARO) Executive Secretary Mildred Jantjies, as well as National Council vice-chairperson Margaret Mensah-Williams. The Sahrawi refugee camps were set up in the Tindouf province from 1975 to 1976 for Sahrawi refugees fleeing from Moroccan forces, who advanced through Western Sahara during the Western Sahara War.

“I commend their bravery. They have already geared themselves towards a government ready to stand on its own,” Hanse-Himarwa said of the Sahrawi people in the refugee camps.

The Namibian delegates also attended the African Conference of Solidarity with the Sahrawi Women held at the Sahrawi refugee camps along with representatives of South Africa, Uganda, Benin, Cape Verde, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Mozambique, Rwanda, Spain, Mexico and Italy.

The UN Security Council has on many occasions passed resolutions that the people of Western Sahara must be given a chance to vote on their independence. Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara continues to cost the country the chance of rejoining the African Union.

Morocco was part of the OAU until it left in 1984 in protest against the OAU’s decision to recognize the Sahwari Arab Democratic Republic, through the Polisario Front, as the legitimate government of Western Sahara.

By Desie Heita

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