Below full text of the interview:
Ahmed Ali: Mr. President, in a few days, will resume at Manhasset, the fourth round of the process of negotiations between Morocco and Polisario. As a member of the Moroccan delegation, how are you preparing yourself for this round, what is your assessment of the results of the third round… is there are any positive elements towards the resolution of this conflict?
Khalihenna Ould Errachid: Let’s start by evaluating the third round as the fourth has not yet begun. The third round was an opportunity, after the first two rounds, to discuss issues relating to the agenda, and especially the implementation of the two Security Council resolutions 1754 and 1783. We can say that this was discussion round rather than a negotiation one… that is to say that we talked about the manner in which these two resolutions will be enforced. But the record of previous rounds has shown the great disparity between the position of Morocco and that of Polisario Front… It turned out that it does not propose any new element in the negotiations, but rather, it adopts what the UN wants to drop, and clings to anything that was behind this current impasse.
On the other hand, the Kingdom of Morocco presented a new proposal in accordance with the methodology of the UN aimed at finding a political solution which meets the aspirations of all parties. A solution that meets the demands of Sahrawis and the international community and responds to the request made by the Kingdom of Morocco, which wants to preserve its sovereignty in the Sahara and guarantee its territorial integrity.
So we can say that the third round did not differ from the two previous ones. The status quo has been maintained since Polisario has not come to this round with good intentions and with willingness to reach a solution.
As you know, when we talk about negotiations, it means that parties must make concessions to reach a middle solution. No party can win at 100%. Polisario is a global front, which was built on the Marxist methodology. It is not used to take part in negotiations, nor to make concessions or consensual solutions which are the basis of UN decisions. That is why so far we have seen no confirmed willingness by the Polisario Front to go beyond the past mistakes and start realistic, reasonable and possible talks.
AA: Sorry, what are the concessions made by Morocco to reach a consensual solution?
KOE: Morocco has made important historical concessions. Morocco is a state where authority is centralized and everything is managed from the capital, since the end of the French and Spanish colonization. This is what we call the Bonapartist regime which is applied in several countries of Europe, especially France and Spain.
Morocco has suggested something completely different, which is autonomy. And it is not a simple word but, the way it is submitted by Morocco, it is rather a concept that exists only in highly developed countries well rooted in democracy such as the United States of America, Canada and Spain…
AA: This is the situation of Kurds in Iraq?
KOE: No. It is a different system, a system of race. Each country has its different historical origins, and Morocco does not want a federal system, quite the contrary, it wants a decentralized regime such as Italy or Spain, where some regions enjoy a political, not administrative, autonomy. This simply means that the State preserves its sovereignty and the local government has the full right to manage its affairs, including legislative affairs, within its prerogatives.
So, Morocco presented a project that corresponds to what exists in other countries, and this project will change it completely, in all that relates to its Constitution, its policy and administration. So, Morocco has changed its position, whereas in the past, it rejected this regime and said that the Sahara was part of the Kingdom as all other regions.
This means that Morocco has made an important concession to arrive at a fair solution.
AA: Sorry, Mr. President, but your Council has no legislative powers, and you have just talked about legislative powers under autonomy… the Council has only a consultative aspect?
KOE: No, the Royal Council is not autonomy.
AA: this is a model to be followed after the implementation of autonomy?
KOE: Yes, but it is a Royal Council… That is to say, a Council that helps His Majesty solve this problem. He was created by the King to prepare favourable conditions for the establishment of autonomy and the preparation of its project. The Council has prepared the autonomy project but the Council is not autonomy. Autonomy is a new regime to be introduced in the Sahara region, once all parties agree. It will have its government, its parliament, supreme court, local police. We are a royal institution that works within the framework of the missions entrusted to us by His Majesty to find a solution to the Sahara.
AA: What is the representativeness of Saharan tribes in this Council?
KOE: You are from Qatar, and you belong to the Gulf countries which are much like us. Arab societies are originally tribal societies. This regime is more powerful than the electoral system. The ties, values and allegiances among the tribes are much more important than in political parties and other forums. It is even stronger than belonging to the state, the organization of the Council respected this rule. An Arabic basic which brings us back to the origins of all Arabs. The council is composed of 141 members, and reflects the image of the Saharan society, the way it is today, composed of sheikhs, young, men, women…
AA: Sir, we heard that Polisario representatives were hampered by your presence within the Moroccan delegation, why?
KOE: Because Polisario was formed on the basis of a historical legend saying that the Front is the sole and legitimate representative of the Saharawi people. This allegation is rejected because it is against democracy. There is nothing in the world called legitimate and sole representative … be they persons or property; everyone has the right to choose.
In democracy, you choose the parties and bodies and you vote for what is consistent with your principles and your commitments… the same for goods, you buy what you like and that corresponds to what you like.
So, this way of thinking is inherited from the communist era and the Cold War. And as you know, countries which adopt this regime say that the Communist Party is the sole representative of workers, of bourgeoisie, of engineers and doctors, but this orthodoxy was no longer valid after the demise of the Soviet Union.
Polisario is constantly repeating that it is the sole spokesman of Sahrawis and their unique representative and has the right to speak on their behalf.
That is why His Majesty established in March 2006, the Royal Council. We compete with this unique representative. We represent the majority of the Sahara inhabitants who are currently in the Sahara, while Polisario represents only 20% of Sahrawis who are living on Algerian territory.
AA: So, there is a difference. What is you basis in presenting these figures?
KOE: These figures are taken from the census done by the UN in 2001. What I am saying is that the 141 members represent all Saharan tribes, including those located in Tindouf, because they are the same tribes.
As regards the true representation according to international criteria, it could only be known after the establishment of institutions of autonomy the taking place of elections. At this point, the representative of the Sahrawi people could be us or Polisario, if it participates. But, according to the current situation, we represent what exists in the region.
AA: Mr. President, let go back to negotiations… some say it is impossible to find a solution to the Sahara if there is no face-to-face negotiations between Morocco and Algeria because the conflict is Maroco-Algerian, do you share this idea?
KOE: I am among those who support to exclude Algeria from this conflict, in the most honourable way. It is true that Polisario is on Algerian territory, and it is true that the front is supported by Algeria, both diplomatically and militarily. However, Algeria also says that it is not interested in the Sahara conflict and has no requests to do about it, and that everything it does is supporting the Polisario Front, based on the principle of the Algerian revolution which revolves around self-determination.
We see no downside to this, and hope that Algeria will respect its words when it claims that its support to Polisario is a matter of principle. If this is true, why it does not leave us negotiate with the Polisario Front to reach an agreement. In fact, Algeria has a dual position. It always says it is not involved in the conflict, and that is what we want and are working towards, but at the time of negotiations during the three previous rounds, it has provided no effort to persuade Polisario to achieve a solution. There is considerable ambiguity with regard to the position of Algeria.
AA: You referred to military, material and diplomatic support of Algeria to the Polisario Front, what is the interest of Algeria to support Polisario in this way?
KOE: In my opinion, Algeria has no interest in supporting Polisario because it has gained nothing from this conflict which has lasted 32 years. This support is draining Algerian energy and wealth in the financial, military and political fields?
I would add that this hinders the energies of the Arab Maghreb… Also, we do not understand this situation and we ask the question: Why does Algeria intervene in this conflict without any interest? unless Algeria wants to separate the Sahara from Morocco to dominate the Maghreb…
Many people believe in this theory. Back to the beginning of the conflict, we find that Algeria has gained nothing, like other Arab countries. This conflict has not strengthened the position of Algeria in the world, has not prevented the civil war which lasted ten years in Algeria, has not prevented terrorism, and has not made of Algeria an industrial country and powerful exporter. So, we see no positive effect on the Algerian people, nor on the Algerian State. That is why we are very intrigued and we ask Why has Algeria been supporting Polisario, even beyond reasonable limits?
AA: Do you agree with what some observers when they say that this conflict is a conflict of powers in the region?
KOE: For Morocco, this is not a conflict of authority… Morocco has recovered the Sahara in accordance with the normal procedure. Concerning our relationship with Spain relating to the abolition of settlements … Morocco is one of the few countries, if not the only country which has been under the protectorate of two European countries, France and Spain.
France had one region, which is the middle of Morocco, while Spain had several regions, Tangier, Ceuta, Melilla, Tarfaya, Tan Tan, Sahara and others. And that is why Morocco has followed a different procedure, which is still in use today, with Spain, as we have not yet recovered Ceuta and Melilla. So the Sahara conflict is not a conflict of authority or extension or domination, but it is a matter of Moroccan sovereignty and recovery of all parts of it national territory.
Algeria’s position is very ambiguous. I do not agree one hundred percent with those who say that this is Morocco-Algerian conflict. I say it is an Algerian intervention in the Moroccan affairs.
AA: Sincerely, what do the Saharan tribes think of autonomy and this new proposal?
KOE: Sahrawis back autonomy as the best solution.
AA: How do you explain some disorders that occur from time to time in some Sahrawi cities and provinces and which sometimes take the form of rebellion and law break?
KOE: No, no, there is no disobedience or rebellion. These are simply small groups who support the Polisario Front and Morocco, as you know, is a democratic state. This does not take place only in the Sahara but throughout the Kingdom, from Tangier to Lagouira. There is a freedom of opinion, freedom of press and freedom of expression.
If things are less under control and if the law is not respected, and if there is damage to personal and public property, then the State intervenes to bring things into order.
AA: How much credible what Polisario says about violation of human rights affecting those who are for the separation of the Sahara? Is it true that opponents to Morocco were subjected to repression?
KOE: If the Moroccan State wants violate human rights and prevent Polisario supporters, there will be one expressing Polisario views … But the Polisario uses human rights for external propaganda without any basis. In order to prove this, the few Polisario supporters who are in the region, travel outside the country with Moroccan passports and support the Front in Washington, Brussels, Johannesburg and Madrid. They are not living in the Tindouf camps but inside Morocco.
AA: They have Moroccan passports that are renewed without any oppression?
KOE: Without any problem and they insult Morocco in all meetings, but for us this is part of freedom of expression.
The only condition that Morocco imposes, and this is indeed the case for all democratic countries, that opinions should be expressed freely, without using violence. Security forces intervene only in case of violence. They are free to say whatever they want within the framework of freedom of expression.
AA: Sorry to interrupt, but why Morocco feels upset when Arab media like Al Jazeera channel covers disorder that occurs from time to time in the Sahara?
KOE: No, I do not think that Morocco is upset by Al Jazeera. The channel has an office in Rabat. Morocco is simply upset when a false information is disseminated. But nobody can be disturbed by the dissemination of information, and Al Jazeera transmits daily demonstrations in front of Parliament, the Amazigh people… So we have a freedom of expression and we have no problem in relation to the dissemination of information.
AA: two years ago, Morocco felt upset because of Al Jazeera coverage of the Sahara problem!
KOE: No, in 2005 there was violent behaviour. Young people attacked police cars with bombs. It may not be regarded as a political act. Of course, you can say what you like in favour of Polisario and self-determination, but you can not violate the law, and there is a difference. Aljazeera can now reports what it likes in its 10 pm journal.
AA: You're from Sahara but you are against the establishment of an independent Sahrawi state, why? Is it because you are convinced that such an idea is unworkable? is it because you are convinced that this state will remain dependent on other parties?
KOE: First I am an Arab, and like any Arab citizen, I am with unity and not separation. This is my principle, and that is the basis of the Arab League … In addition, we, as Muslims, are in favour of Muslim unity, therefore, anything that tends towards dispersion is denied. But I’ll answer your answer.
First, I will speak about the Arab countries… all Arab countries, apart from Algeria, support Morocco in this conflict, because all Arab countries were present at the Rabat summit in 1974 with the late President Houari Boumédiane. The latter said, according to the records of the Arab League, that the Sahara is Moroccan. So, all Arab countries, apart from Algeria, support the Moroccan Sahara.
The Arab states sometimes find themselves in an extreme confusion in relation to the information they receive. The Sahara has never been in the past, a State or entity separate from Morocco, it has always been part of Morocco. It is true that it had enjoyed some form of autonomy, given its geographical remoteness and nature of social relationships that lie Saharans. However, direct relationship with the rulers of Morocco is based on allegiance, ie that it is His Majesty who embodies sovereignty, religious practices and preservation of the territorial unity.
This has simply been renewed with the autonomy proposal.
Autonomy makes us go back to the period before the protectorate, more specifically before 1912. At that time, Morocco was a decentralized state, essentially based on allegiance to the king, that is why we say that the Sahrawi State has no components, from a historical point of view,' especially as the Sahara population has played an important part in the construction of the Moroccan State and its ancient and contemporary history: therefore, Why should there be a separate entity that would serve the interests of foreign colonization in the Sahara, and should not we support the Moroccan unity?
Why create a new state? Are not Arabs dispersed enough? do we need further dispersion?
AA: You think that the Sahara does not have the components that can make it an independent state?
KOE: Yes absolutely. It lacks the components that form a government, and there is no reason to create this condition, neither. Why weaken an Arab Islamic state to create a new entity… For what reasons?
Algeria does not need land, it has an area of two million 700 km2, including 1200 km of Mediterranean coastline and mountains. The same thing for Libya and Mauritania. The real question is: Why this sterile conflict has lasted one third of a century, with no interest to Arab world or the Muslim world?
There is no benefit to be taken from this sterile conflict apart from destroying our capacity to affect our unity and delay, for no reason, development of the promising Arab Maghreb, in terms of economy, democracy, industry and openness.
AA: Sir, Why has not Morocco begun the application procedures for autonomy? Does it need Polisario agreement?
KOE: No, Morocco has initiated a procedure through the United Nations to solve the Sahara conflict, and we want, first and foremost, that the solution is backed by international legitimacy with the UN approval. It is true that Morocco recognizes that within Polisario, there are Sahrawis who are our cousins and our families and we want them to share with us autonomy, and that peace prevails.
Algeria has already signed an agreement with Morocco in 1972, an agreement which gives it direct shipping between Tindouf and Tan Tan, therefore Algeria can use the Moroccan coast to export its goods, within the framework of cooperation and development of the Arab Maghreb.
AA: How do you see economic development in the Sahara?
KOE: This development has been taking place since the recovery of the Sahara. When the region was under the authority of Spain, Spain itself was an underdeveloped country. Morocco continued to invest substantial amounts to carry out infrastructure: ports, airports, electricity, telecommunications, roads and social projects in housing, education, health etc…. So, Morocco has developed this region in a remarkable manner. The today Sahara has nothing to do with 1975. If autonomy is approved, the region will experience greater development, and the Sahara will become a development and cooperation link among countries of the Arab Maghreb.
AA: If we come back to the issue of negotiations, how do you envisage future talks, and what new deal could be made especially since the third round has not made any progress that deserves to be mentioned?
KOE: Negotiations progress, since we sit around a table and discuss, and that is the only advance we have seen so far. Referendum based on identification is impossible to achieve in the Sahara. The main conflict in the Sahara is referendum, Algeria and Polisario want a referendum based on self-determination which is impossible because the borders between Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania and Mali, have been mapped out by colonization, a distorted manner, ie that the Saharan tribes are scattered among these countries. As an example, my tribe is located in Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and Mali.
If you want an objective and real referendum for self-determination, we must change borders. We can never achieve this referendum, it would be impossible. Our African continent suffers from this problem. And it is this same problem suffered by Chad, Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda, because the borders were determined by colonization. The main article of the charter of the African Union imposes to keep borders as they were inherited from colonization. This is why the Security Council stressed the need to find a political solution to the Sahara.
And you know that the UN spent 10 years from 1991 to 2001 in the identification process, ie who has the right to vote, should it stop at the first grandfather or should it concern the third generation of our ancestors?
We, for example, if you follow the origins of our grandparents, you arrive in Mecca! We are Hassanis and we are the descendants of Al Hassan, and perhaps some of our grandparents are currently in Saudi Arabia or Qatar.
AA: Now I understand why Polisario is embarrassed by your presence within the Moroccan delegation, perhaps because you are Saudi?
AA: Do you think Algeria’s role was negative during negotiations?
KOE: I cannot say it was negative, but I cannot also say it was positive. The problem is that the role of Algeria is neither positive nor negative, that is to say that Algeria is not interested in this issue. Algeria does not make enough efforts to make Polisario be realistic.
In fact, the UN have appointed renowned experts specializing in determining identity in the United States of America, Europe and Latin America: James Baker, Boutros Ghali, Koufi Annan and Javier Perez Dicullar. All those people found out that a referendum was impossible.
AA: That is to say that the issue of referendum is buried, not possible?
KOE: It is this buried issue which hinders negotiations because that's what Algeria and Polisario are demanding. This issue is outdated because the resolution 1754 is based primarily on the fact that the past failed, that the Baker plan failed and that the referendum failed and that Morocco, Polisario and Algeria and all parties concerned must reach a political solution.
According to the UN terminology, political solution is a solution based on consensus.
But when you stand by your position, this means that you do not want to arrive at a solution. Polisario has the right to discuss autonomy and prerogatives of government. It is about Sahrawi government, parliament of Western Sahara, Sahrawi supreme court and Sahrawi police and prerogatives in all fields.
The United Nations have asked the parties concerned to start negotiations in good faith. If your program does not contain a solution, it means that you do not allow a solution to come out. And if your program is based on creating a small state, you are not seeking a solution. However, if your demands are realistic, the solution exists and could be improved. Polisario can discuss the autonomy content, modify or improve it but we're not there yet.
AA: But if Polisario remains in its position, are you going to go on negotiating? Don’t you have a deadline?
KOE: It has not yet been determined. The UN is never tired of negotiations. We want that these negotiations succeed. The problem does not lie in the fact of losing patience but rather in good intentions that could help reach a solution, even if we should meet 5 or 10 or 30 times.
I believe that Polisario vision in the 4th round vision will be more clear. Does it seek to find a solution or not. In fact, there is no solution but a choice among two things: autonomy or the current situation.
AA: You are going to resume negotiations from where you finished or are you going to start from the beginning?
KOE: The first three rounds, even if they have not given real step forward, they remain, nonetheless, positive in the sense that the Moroccan delegation was able to present the autonomy project despite all negative results registered during the first three rounds. We hope that things will move and that Algeria and Polisario Front pushes will show flexibility. We need flexibility to go forward as quickly as possible.
AA: What are the aspects of the next round? Which will could be taken up by the media?
KOE: The fourth round should concentrate on the discussion of autonomy and the merits of this project.
AA: Polisario leaders threatened to resume war against Morocco if negotiations fail, any comment?
KOE: Polisario wants to blackmail the UN and the international community, but this will have no effect on Morocco and does not scare us. On the other hand, Polisario has neither human resources nor equipment to return to war. Unless that Algeria provides it with the means which means that it seeks war by proxy, but we do not believe that this is possible, the world has changed.
AA: The world has changed, and the world today suffers from terrorism, Some extremist group may use this conflict to make trouble?
KOE: of course, and we have drawn world attention on this. We said that if the Sahara problem is not resolved promptly, the region will be transformed into another Afghanistan. Terrorism has reached a critical situation in Algeria.
We have the intersection of borders between Algeria, northern Mali, northern Mauritania, and in this region, there is no state, no police, no laws. We can call it the grey area, which is likely to harbour "al Qaeda" in the Islamic Maghreb, which comes from "the Salafist group for armed struggle" to which were added other groups, major drug bosses, and cocaine dealers in Latin America who want to go to Europe through these regions.
This grey area whose area reaches one million km2 and on which there is no rule or law, became the property of terrorist organizations allied with all those who are smuggling in weapons, drugs, fuel , Prohibited goods, and which also facilitate illegal immigration.
That is why I say we should avoid this bomb which might blow up at any time threatening the region and the world. We must solve this problem of the Sahara which will create a political, economic, social and healthy atmosphere in the Arab Maghreb, allow it better control its borders and better combat terrorism.
Unfortunately, the Sahara conflict is the cause behind the emergence of this new phenomenon in our region.
AA: Do you expect from the UN to issue a resolution requiring all parties to accept the proposal of autonomy?
KOE: We hope that ... but look at the international community, all Arab countries, except Algeria, support the project of autonomy, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the European Union, as well as the major countries in Asia and Latin America, United States, Canada and most African countries.
AA: But there are countries that recognize Polisario?
KOE: Yes, among them South Africa which leads a fight against the territorial integrity of Morocco. We do not know the causes. Why is this country leading a battle against the Kingdom of Morocco which supported all the efforts made by Nelson Mandela and his friends against the racist regime?
The relationship between South Africa with Algeria and the military markets makes it take this position. This is part of the political and diplomatic support presented by Algeria to Polisario.
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