Raya: The Sahrawi leader Khalihenna Ould Errachid has emphasized the fact that the mutual consent solution based on substantial autonomy remains the practical solution for the settlement of the Sahara issue. This was said in an interview granted to the newspaper Raya, in Morocco, in which he talked also about the reality of the conflict, the work of the Royal Advisory Council for the Saharan Affairs which he presides upon appointment by His Majesty the King Mohammed VI. This Council is expected to play an important role in the Sahara conflict during the next phase.
Khalihenna Ould Errachid was born in November, 1951, in the city of Laayoune. At that time, Sahara was under Spanish occupation, whereas the national resistance, in the other parts of Morocco, was fighting colonialsm. Mr. Ould Errachid undertook high studies in the Spanish Capital, Madrid, before the “Green March” which led to the retrocession of the Saharan provinces. He founded “the Sahrawi National Union Party”, known as “PUNS”.
Under the Moroccan sovereignty, he was appointed, between 1977 and 1992, Minister in Charge of Saharan Affairs in the different governments which were in power in Morocco, during this period.
He was Member of the Parliament, representing the city of Laayoune, between 1977 and 1992, and was also elected, since 1983, President of the Municipality Council in the city of Laayoune, the biggest city in the Sahara. Mr. Ould Errachid is considered to be one of the founders of the National Rally of Independents which he left in 1982, to create the Democratic National Party.
Following is the body of the interview:
Raya : We will start with the decision of His Majesty the King Mohammed VI to release the 48 Sahrawi prisoners, following a request from the Council you preside, does is mean that the Council has started its work?
KOE: Yes, in fact, this is a concrete proof that the Council has really started serious, constructive work, and political action at a high level. This step which His Majesty the King Mohammed VI took to grant amnesty to those who were involved in the last events that took place in the Sahara provinces, and who were still in jail. This is a proof enough that the policy followed by His Majesty is a serious policy intended to apply what was said in His Majesty’s speech on the last 25th March, in the city of Laayoune, that is the definite reconciliation with the Sahrawi people, turning the page of the past with all its negative sides and starting a new page axed essentially on the fact that Morocco will be built on a Solid, strong and new basis in all the fields whether political, economic or social ones, in a way that would satisfy all its components, at the head of which, the Sahrawi people. Thus, the present policy aims at showing the fact that the Moroccan project led by the King is a serious, credible project.
Raya: Besides the fact that the last report of Kuffi Anan recommends to extend the UN’s mission in the Sahara, it also asks the parties in conflict to reach a political solution that would be fair and acceptable by all of them. Does it mean that James Baker’s report of organizing a self-determination referendum is completely abandoned?
KOE: Right, this is the first conclusion we come out with from Kuffi Annan’s report, being under study, at the Security Council, to take a decision about it. This way, Mr. Anan emphasizes, without doubt, that Baker’s project is totally buried, because it is a project which does not apply to the case of the Sahara issue, besides the fact that the identification project took years of work from the UN without any successful results, because such a referendum based on identification can not be implemented as the Sahrawi tribes which were counted in the statistics do not live in the Moroccan Sahara, but also in the neighbour countries such as Algeria, Mauritania and North of Mali. So, if we want to have a fair, free and democratic referendum, it should include all the Sahrawi people living in all these countries, and this of course is not possible. Thus, the referendum based on identification is not possible, and the only solution is a political agreement which would satisfy all the implicated parties.
Raya: In some reactions, the Polisario leader described the Moroccan project proposing autonomy for the Sahara as an unfair project, while the Moroccan Government refused, through its spokesman, Nabil Benabdallah, any negotiation with Polisario, even if he is for such a negotiation with the Algerian side. As an Advisory Sahrawi Council, what is your position about such reactions.
KOE: The autonomy project is not at all unjust to the Sahrawi people, on the opposite, it is all fairness at all levels.
First of all: It is fair to them as it is an official recognition of their position in Morocco, as a major component in the Moroccan nation throughout history.
Secondly: Autonomy is not unfair to the Sahrawi people concerning self-determination because it gives them some rights, not only economic and social, but also political ones. The project allows people in the region to be the masters in their land, to manage their own affairs, to enjoy all the wealth at the economic level, and maintain all their particular traditions, on the social side, within a general context, which is that of the Kingdom of Morocco. The inhabitants of the Sahara have a historical and religious tie with Amir Al Mouminin, who is the King of Morocco, a tie which exists, since the time of their parents and grand parents, and that can not, under any circumstances, be broken, which is the tie of allegiance. This allegiance means political, economic and social rights, the same rights guaranteed by the substantial autonomy.
To put into effect the project of substantial autonomy, we are, of course, ready to start negotiations with the Polisario Front, who are our brothers and our people, and who are, unfortunately, pushed by some international and previous national circumstances, to take this extremist position, but now, there are no more reasons to ask for separation, especially that all the claims made by the Sahrawi people are satisfied in the autonomy project.
Concerning Algeria, the Arab, Islamic and African sister country saying that it is not part of the conflict, we respond as follows: great, we believe what you say, and we will, consequently, ask you to forget about the past problems such as the frontiers problems. Most of these problems do not exist any more, so Algeria should help us start negotiations with our brothers in the Polisario to help Sahrawi people join each other, and set up the foundations for a substantial autonomy which would make everyone achieve his goals and aims.
This project realizes for Morocco its total sovereignty, provides the Moroccan Sahrawi people with political, economic, social and cultural rights, and would preserve Algeria’s dignity and self-respect as it helped the Sahrawi people all these years, and it would, consequently help them achieve a concrete solution, and by doing so its efforts would not be in vain.
Thus, the autonomy project is the only way to solve the Sahara problem, and there is no other solution neither through the United Nations nor any other institution, and it is upon it that would be built the Arab Maghreb, so that we would be free to face our problems in the political, economic, social fields and all the domains of democracy and mutual cooperation.
Raya : You asked the leader of Polisario to accept the autonomy project, confirming that you are ready to help him become the first president of the autonomous authority whereas others ask to prosecute him as war criminal because of all the accusations brought against him either from the Moroccan war prisoners or the inhabitants of the camps?
KOE: Listen, it is said that Islam concealed all that existed before, and since reconciliation is an essential part of Islam, so we should not come up with conflicts when we are moving towards reconciliation. We are ready to help our brother Mohammed Abdelaziz “Leader of Polisario” to become president of the autonomous authority, with all our forces, within the Moroccan sovereignty and under the leadership of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, and this is an expression of our will to forget the past and start a new page.
Raya: When you talk about the possibility to nominate the Polisario leader, how would that happen, through suffrage or by direct appointment?
KOE: No, through suffrage. But we can push him to become president of the autonomous authority, to show our good intentions to reach reconciliation.
Raya: It was reported, based on one of your declarations, that your will meet the Algerian President, Abdelaziz Boutaflika, where are you in preparing such a meeting?
KOE: First of all, we have come to know that President Boutaflika is undergoing some medical exams and we wish him a speedy recovery and a good health. To respond to your question, indeed, I asked His Majesty the King’s permission to talk to President Boutaflika and to the Government and State of Algeria, because we want to tell them directly that we are real Sahrawi, and that the majority of the Sahrawi people, living under the Moroccan sovereignty, consider that substantial autonomy is the only mean to achieve reconciliation, and that this autonomy is sufficient for us. The African Continent is full of problems and crises, the poor states based on tribes did not succeed, there is the case of Somalia, the Arab and African sister country whose main problem is the lack of harmony between its tribes. Look what’s going on, today in Darfur , at the west of the Sudan where tribes are fighting each other.
So, we can not built a small entity based on tribes in the Sahara because it would become a bomb for the Arab Maghreb and the African continent, if not the whole world, as the region is so close to the important states that preserve peace such as the European Union and the United States, so we have to avoid all that can create trouble. Based on that, substantial autonomy is the best solution for the Sahara, because it satisfies the inhabitants and stands against any fragile situation where peace can be threatened, and on the other hand, it participates in reinforcing the brotherhood in the Arab Maghreb States, especially that the inhabitants of the region are tied at the human, family and geography level, with Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria.
Raya: What is the reason behind the delay in presenting the autonomy project which was supposed to be presented last April, to the Security Council?
KOE: It was not possible to present the Moroccan proposal to the Security Council during April because the Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs was recently appointed, and consequently, we did not start yet consultations with the Royal Palace about the characteristics of substantial autonomy concerning the region. Once these consultations are done, at this time, it would be possible for Morocco to present a complete, well examined project.
Raya: Waiting for that to happen, have you started getting in touch with the Sahrawi tribes whether inside or outside Morocco?
KOE: Of course, since the first day, 25th March, we have started to get in touch with people inside and outside Morocco to explain this historical step, and this is the first one in Morocco which would lead, certainly, towards a historical reconciliation. We have started explaining the project to the citizens through the media and direct meetings and according to the first reactions, the majority of the Sahrawi people are satisfied with this project.
Raya : Finally, how would you, Mr. Khalihenna, see the end of the conflict, especially after the report of Mr. Anan who considered that the conflict is not part of the International agenda for different reasons, the main one being the fact that most of the countries are keen on keeping good relationships with Morocco and Algeria?
KOE: This conclusion confirms that there is not solution but mutual consent based on substantial autonomy, because war did not give any result, the referendum based on defining the identity is not possible, so the only solution we are left with is the mutual consent and the approval of the autonomy project, unless we want this conflict to continue uselessly.
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