The latest diplomatic blows come after a Bulgarian MEP called on the European Parliament to stop the Polisario “exploiting the humanitarian situation” in the Tindouf camps, Algeria.
Rabat – The Polisario Front has lashed out at Spain over a Madrid Supreme Court ruling to ban the use of the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic’s (SADR) flag in public buildings and spaces.
In a desperate bid to claw back dwindling support for its cause, the breakaway group’s “permanent bureau” published on Tuesday an official response to a series of diplomatic blows
The Polisario called on Spain to recognize “the historical, political, legal and moral responsibility of the Spanish State” to stand with the self-proclaimed SADR against Morocco in the search for an equitable resolution to the Western Sahara conflict.
In the same June 2 statement, the Polisario vents its anger on the European Union. The document accuses the European bloc of supporting Morocco’s claims of sovereignty over the region, citing EU-Morocco fisheries agreements as evidence of the EU’s complicity.
According to the Polisario’s press office, “For decades, the EU has not only ignored the conflict, but also fed it with agreements that only benefit Morocco, while limiting its attention to the conflict resolution efforts undertaken by the UN.”
In an almost childlike bid to shame Spain and the EU with examples of solidarity with the Polisario’s cause, the statement praised Algeria and Mauritania for supporting the breakaway group’s independence claims.
The bureau expressed its “deep gratitude, on behalf of the Saharawi people, to the Algerian people, under the leadership of the President of the Republic, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, for the constant support of the struggle for Sahrawi liberation.”
The Polisario’s diplomatic tantrum comes after Madrid dealt a series of disappointing blows to the Sahrawi independence cause.
Flags and ‘frenemies’
The first string to unravel in perceived Spain-Polisario relations involved the flag of the self-proclaimed SADR. To celebrate Africa Day on May 26, Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya tweeted a map of Africa adorned with the flags of each nation. The flag of the largely unrecognized SADR did not feature.
The Polisario saw the move from Gonzalez as an intentional, calculated “provocation” and called on their traditional allies in Madrid, the socialist party Podemos, to intervene with the coalition government.
Hoping to distance himself and his party from the increasingly unpopular Polisario Front, Podemos’ leader Pablo Iglesias and his party remained silent on the subject, leading pro-Polisario news outlets and voices to accuse him of “betrayal.”
Podemos’ alleged cold shoulder became more than just rumor when, in contrast to previous parliamentary sessions, a Galician MP raised the question of Western Sahara.
Historically, Podemos MPs have called on Madrid to recognize the self-proclaimed SADR as an independent state, however, in a recent parliamentary session Podemos members maintained a stony silence as Galicia’s Néstor Rego Candamil called on the coalition government to “recognize and establish diplomatic relations with the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as a sovereign state.”
Podemos’ silent shift away from their former allies should come as no surprise, since, as part of the Spanish government coalition, they need to maintain positive relations with Morocco.
As an EU member state, Spain traditionally holds a position of implicit acceptance of Morocco’s sovereignty in Western Sahara, through fisheries agreements that include the regions off the coast of the disputed region.
Spain also relies heavily on Morocco in terms of border control and the ongoing efforts to curb the flow of irregular migrants entering Spain, even amid the ongoing global coronavirus crisis.
Polisario leader Brahim Ghali’s rage over the Spanish FM’s Africa Day tweet will not soon be abated. Yesterday, the Spanish Supreme Court approved a piece of legislation that will keep the frown on Ghali’s face for a long time to come.
It is now illegal in Spain to display “unofficial” flags or symbols inside or on public buildings or administrative offices.
The legislative text specifies that flags or symbols that are not “compatible with the current constitutional and legal framework” or with the “duty of objectivity and neutrality of Spanish administrations” should not be used or displayed in public spaces.
The Supreme Court judgement is clear that flags or symbols that are not officially recognized by the Spanish government should not appear alongside “the flag of Spain and the others legally or legally established.”
The legislation does not cite the flag of the self-proclaimed SADR by name, however the meaning is clear and marks a clear shift out of alignment with the Polisario’s independence claims in Western Sahara.
Focus on Tindouf
Though the Polisario’s desperate statement focussed largely on lashing out at Spain, the EU also came under the spotlight of the breakaway group’s tantrum after a Bulgarian MEP called on the bloc to look more closely at the situation in the Polisario-run Tindouf camps in Algeria.
Approximately 90,000 Sahrawis are resident in the Tindouf camps, unable to leave and at the mercy of the Polisario Front to whom Algeria has handed complete control. Reports of repression of basic freedoms and dire humanitarian conditions regularly come out of the camps.
In a recent plenary session of the European parliament, Bulgarian MEP Ilhan Kyuchyuk warned his fellow representatives that the Polisario’s exploitation of the camps is clear, citing the group’s large military arsenal paired with pleas for food aid.
In a question to EU High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security Josep Borrell, Kyuchyuk said it is well-known that the Polisario Front “is heavily armed and has a large budget for maintenance of its military equipment.”
Polisario leaders, he continued, “are also constantly exploiting the humanitarian situation in the Tindouf camps to draw the attention of the institutions of the European Union to the plight of the populations who live there.” The MEP asked Borrell if he was already aware of the “surreal situation.”
Kyuchyuk emphasized that Algeria has refused to organize a census of the population “despite repeated calls from the UN Security Council.” He said MEPs are “entitled to ask the EU to take measures to monitor humanitarian aid sent to these camps and to ensure that European taxpayers’ money is not wasted.”
The Bulgarian MEP’s call for increased scrutiny on the situation in Tindouf came after the Global Africa Latina Foundation called for an end to the Polisario Front’s “military stranglehold” on the camps. The call for aid emphasized that the Sahrawi population held captive in the camps are living in “panic and despair.”
The foundation, a collective of Latin American NGOs, denounced “the manipulation of international humanitarian aid” and the Polisario armed forces for “keeping the population in permanent captivity.”
The foundation called on the United Nations, including High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet “to investigate the plight of the vulnerable population of Tindouf, who suffer from the iron grip and the tyranny of the Polisario and its mentors.”
Ghali and his fellow Polisario leaders may well be feeling hot under the collar and under the microscope as the international community begins to look more closely at the situation in Tindouf, however, the recent hostile statement tells a different, and more cynical, story.
It appears, however, that, rather than scrambling to address the increasing needs of the Sahrawi population it claims to represent, the Polisario has chosen to throw out hostile, childish barbs at former friends and criticize international bodies for maintaining neutrality and adhering to UN guidance.