The Moroccan Embassy in Norway has strongly condemned Norwegian newspaper Norway Today’s article on two students who were denied entry into the Western Saharan city of Laayoune in southern Morocco on Sunday.
Vegard Fosso Smievioll and Kjersti Brevik Moller, two law students from Bergen, were denied entry into Laayoune and deported, along with five Spanish lawyers, on Sunday.
The students were sent by the NGO Rafto Foundation to observe the trial of human rights activist Nazha El Kahlidi, who is charged in Laayoune with usurping the journalism profession. The trial is controversial, with organizations like Amnesty International calling on Morocco to drop all charges against El Kahlidi.
Norwegian newspaper NorwayToday reported the deportation of the students in its article on Sunday “Norwegian observers denied entry to Western Sahara.“ The report prompted an immediate response from the Moroccan Embassy.
In a press release Monday, the Moroccan Embassy asserted that the students should not be considered “observers.”
“Being an observer, all over the world, is an official statute that includes competencies and legal procedures: no country on earth, Norway included, would ever accept that students could credibly be designated as observers and have the competencies to observe a trial,” said the press release.
Students sent to ‘provoke an incident’
The Moroccan Embassy added that the students were deliberately sent by Rafto Foundation to be arrested and “to provoke an incident and catch the attention and the emotion of the Norwegian public.”
“Morocco regrets that Norwegian students can be used to distract the parties involved from the positive confidence measures the General Secretary of the United Nations has initiated.”
In its article, NorwayToday included unfounded political background under the heading “Western Sahara occupied for nearly fifty years.”
The embassy’s press release emphasized that much of the article’s wording conflicts with the official UN position on Western Sahara.
In particular, it highlights that while the article designates Morocco as “occupying” the Sahara, the UN in fact considers Morocco an “administrative power.”
The embassy also rejects the article’s allegations that Western Sahara has rich natural resources.
“Everybody knows there are no rich phosphate resources in the Sahara since the US Geological Institute has made a study that concludes that Sahara contains less than 2% of the phosphate resources present in the rest of Morocco.”
Finally, the embassy reminds that Polisario forbids the UN to enter tindouf refugee camps and that 2015 estimates the number of refugees at 150 000.
It appears that NorwayToday has since retracted any statements on this point, as the article in its current form does not touch on these issues.