Western Sahara: Interview With UJSARIO Leader Hamdi Toubali

We publish this interview conducted by Alejandro Bodart with Hamdi Toubali, a leader of the Sahrawi Youth Union in the refuggee camps in Algeria. It was shown on the November 26 edition of International Panorama.

What are the Sahrawi people’s living conditions like today?

Because of the occupation and the military invasion in 1975, half of the Sahara populations were forced to flee and seek refuge in Southwest Algeria. Now, we have Saharawis living in the refugee camps while the other half live under occupation. There is a wall built by the Moroccans in the 80′ and is guarded by 120 000 Moroccan soldiers and surrounded by 9 millions of landmines. Having said all this, Saharawis are suffering on both sides. There is a humanitarian crisis east of the Berm ( the sand wall) and there is occupation and oppression west of the berm. On one hand, Saharawi refugees totally rely on humanitarian aid and are still waiting to come back to a independent territory free from occupation. On the other hand, Saharawis under occupation are living under occupation and suffering everyday from aggression, police brutality, human rights abuses, marginalization and exclusion. There is also the Moroccan plunder of the Saharawi natural resources in complicity with international companies and foreign countries. The UN has failed the Saharawis who no longer trust the UN and the and UNSC. The UN promised the Saharwis the organization of a referendum in 1991, but such a promise was never fulfilled .In Western Sahara, there is a lock of opportunity, an political impasse and people are living poor in a rich country despite the far that the international law and legality  are  on their side.

What is the Polisario Front? How did it arise and what policies has it had to recover the historical territories of Western Sahara?

The Polisario is a liberation movement formed in 1973 during the Spanish colonialism,  and it waged a war for independence and established the self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in 1976 that received recognition from entities including the African Union. The Polisario Front is the unique and sole representative of the people of Western Sahara. In 1963, the UN ratified the resolution calling to decolonization of all colonized countries including Western Sahara. Spain failed to do and Morocco did the same thing. Western Sahara is still listed as a decolonization issue by the UN Fourth committee. Polisario Front (Front Popular for La Liberacion de Saguia Hamra y Rio de Oro) has been able to win many battles against Morocco on western Sahara soil and was able to capture thousands of POW’s who were later set free after the ceasefire was signed as part of  UN peace settlement plan brokered by the UN. 80% of the Saharawi land is still occupied by Morocco while 20% is under Polisario control and is called the Liberated zone.

Why do you think the negotiations have failed all these years since the cease fire?

During all these years, the negotiations have failed because of Morocco. Morocco is the only one to Blame for this failure and for the actual impasse status Quo. Morocco asked for the ceasefire because it was losing the war and it took advantage of the good faith that Saharawis showed. Morocco sabotaged the identification process which aimed to be the basis to determine who has the right to vote in the referendum. Morocco performed this sabotage deliberately in order to sabotage the role referendum and impose what they called the Real-politics. Morocco bribed many UN envoys and UN officials at all levels in order to serve its own agenda.  Morocco abused of our good faith and our patience.

What economic interests do you think lie behind the European Union and other imperialist powers´ unity with Morocco?

European countries and the EU have been working hard to serve their own agenda and improve their own economies at the expense of the Saharawi people and their plight. EU adopted double standard policies to improve its relations with Morocco and to strengthen it’s with Morocco by getting more incentives from Morocco in Western Sahara. Western Sahara has a rich coast dfull if thousands of fish specimen and huge deposits of phosphates among other minerals. Therefore, EU has laid its eyes on the Saharawi natural resources in defiance to the international law the ruling of the European Court of Justice which asserted that Western Sahara is not part of Morocco and that Morocco and EU do not have the right to include it in any mutual or bilateral agreement EU is selfish and is in breach of the law. Morocco offers incentives to EU; twist the arms of Spain and the EU by using illegal immigration flow, drugs and the issue of Ceuta and Melilla against Spain.

The youth has been the most determined to struggle, can you tell us what you propose?

The Sahara youth is more determined than ever to gain Western Sahara independence because many exertions were born in the refugee camps without having the right to live in their own homeland free and independent. They see the plunder of their resources, they see the Moroccan kingdom abuse of their rights and they see that they have no future as long as occupation of their homeland continues. Therefore, the youth is aware that independence cannot be giving as a gift but rather earned by hard work and struggle. The youth is the first victim of this occupation is it in the occupied territory, where there are daily abuses against them, or in the refugee camps, where there is opportunity for them and nothing in the horizon. They all want to live in peace, in prosperity, pursue happiness and with dignity and benefit from their own natural resources.

What detonated the current conflicto in El Guerguerat?

After Morocco launched a military operation early Friday November 13th in a United Nations-patrolled buffer zone after  when many Saharawi civilians  were blocking access to neighboring Mauritania for 20 days at the Guergarat zone, The Polisario declared war on Morocco, shattering a three-decade-long cease-fire. The Guergarat is a buffer zone declared by the UN at the ceasefire agreement in 1991. Morocco opened that illegal breach in the berm and eased traffic of goods, passengers among other things to Maurtania. The Sahrawis called many times for the closure of this illegal breach but Morocco opted not to listen, This pushed the Sahara civil society to act and organize a sit in at the Guergarat strip and thus blocking all traffic. Morocco tried to annex this strip to serve its own agenda and tried to arrest these civilians. Moroccan thugs and military were advancing towards the protesters  and thus they breached the ceasefire agreement and military agreement which forbid the presence of any armed soldier there. This was documented and took place under the nose of the UN, the mission MINURSO that was present there. Polisario intervening to protect their civilians and pulled them Fromm there before any harm can come their way. After that, Polisario declared war on Moroccan soldiers and declared war o different Moroccan fronts along the berm.

Morocco denies that there is currently a war and tries to cover everything up. What can you tell us about this?

Morocco lanced propaganda against Saharawis; this propaganda is not new as it has been out there since the Start of the struggle. Morocco always tries to hide the truth and distorts the facts. Morocco spread lies about everything. They are bot ashamed to tell lies a or to fabricate them. Since the war resumed, Morocco keeps all its media under control and has resorted to lies and fabrication of videos. Morocco suffers economically and socially. The stability of Morocco is at stakes and on the brink to shatter. So, propaganda for the Moroccan regime is the only way out to escape such a fall. Therefore, Morocco does not want people to know the truth and to see what is happening. Their morale is really down and they fear a revolution in Morocco or the emergence of local opposition groups if people find out the truth. Morocco also sought the help of its Arab media allies and thus is trying to lie to the Arab viewers I order to get them on its side. Moroccan officials are laying to the face of other international media such as Omar Hilal, Morocco Delegate to the UN, who told a bunch of lies to CNN just few days ago. Also, Morocco recruited 5000 Moroccans to be active on social media and to launch a huge media campaign against the Saharawis.

In the ISL we have been carrying out a solidarity campaign. How do you think we can continue helping?

I think, and this will be a short message for every activist around the world, that here in Western Sahara we don’t want just to find our right for self-determination and independence. We have the international law behind us. But the problem for us as the youth, is that there are many many activists and many people around the world that don’t know anything about Western Sahara, that don’t know anything about the truth in Western Sahara, that don’t know anything about our struggle and our suffering since 1975. Now, I think that it is our responsibility, from us and from you all, to show to the world what is Western Sahara, what is the truth about Western Sahara, for the people to know that.

The first point, you can organize the manifestations in the site of your cities, in front of the Moroccan embassy, of the Moroccan consulates, to explain that the Saharawi people are not alone. The second thing, you can send statements of solidarity from many different international organizations from around the world to this great people that are fighting just for the referendum and self determination. The third thing, I think it is very important if you can talk to your media, to your channels, to explain the truth. But I am sure that after we win the war, we win against Covid19, we will invite you, we will invite anyone to come to Western Sahara to see the truth and to talk from here, not just from your country. Finally I want to say that your statements of solidarity, your protests in front of the Morocco embassy and Morocco consulates, your participation in the media, in the channels, will be really helping the Saharawi people in this situation.

Would you like to add anything else?

I want just to say one thing. We don´t, we are not a people that like war. We don´t love the war. But the war is something (impression?) for us now. We have more than thirty years waiting for the United Nations to keep their promises for us. Just for my people to choose what they want, if they want independence or they want to be part of Morocco. In these thirty years we lost many generations, we lost many many people, because we like peace. But, unfortunately, we are very sorry to say that we believe that without war we cannot find our independence and our freedom. I don’t want anyone to say that the Saharawi people are looking for war. No! We waited for peace, and he worked for the solution by peace for more than thirty years and nothing happened. But now when we went back to the war just for twelve days, just twelve days, all the world is talking about Western Sahara, and they are asking us what we want. Ok, you ask me today what I want, after just 12 days of war, but in 30 years before the war nobody asked us what we wanted. This is the difference, this is something that is very complicated for us. We cannot understand it as you. But I want to say that of course we are in the war, we will continue, we will in the end, and we will get our independence. We hope that the Polisario Front and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic can go back to peace, but to real peace, not just peace and behind it there is no future, no hope, nothing. We hope Western Sahara can be free. We hope that all comrades stand with our people in these hard and difficult times for our struggles. Thank you very much.