Rabat questions Polisario POW release

Morocco has described a pledge by the Polisario Front to free the remaining Moroccan prisoners of war as propaganda aimed at deceiving the international community.

    The Polisario Front still holds 408 Moroccan prisoners

    The exiled group, which advocates independence for Western Sahara, last week pledged to free 408 Moroccan prisoners, many held for almost two decades.

    The Moroccan Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said it considered the announcement a tactical move for political goals at the expense of the prisoners.

    The Paris-based Polisario representative, Habib Allah Mohammad, told Aljazeera the decision to release the prisoners would be carried out once tensions inside Western Sahara eased.

    He said a recent crackdown by the Moroccan authorities inside the territory made the release difficult.

    "The arrangements for freeing the prisoners are linked to the prevailing atmosphere in the region.

    "Yesterday in occupied Laayoune town, the Polisario activist Ali Salem Tamek was arrested. Amin al-Sihaidar was also arrested weeks ago. Tensions are very high while Laayoune has been under siege day and night by thousands of Moroccan soldiers and security elements."

    Tamek was arrested on Monday on suspicion of encouraging riots in the disputed territory, a Moroccan government source said.

    Aljazeera permit withdrawn

    In response to the interview with Mohammad, Moroccan authorities withdrew the reporting permit for Aljazeera's correspondent in Rabat, Abdul Salam Razaq.


    A group of Moroccan prisoners
    of war was released in 2003

    The Arab Maghreb News Agency (MAP) carried a statement issued by the Moroccan Communications Ministry saying the decision came after the correspondent dispatched reports the ministry said were not true and violated "professional press ethics".

    The Moroccan authorities have said al-Tamek was summoned by judicial authorities for questioning on charges involving the riots that swept Laayoune, the largest city in the Western Sahara late last June.

    Reuters reported that al-Tamek was arrested upon his arrival from Europe at Laayoune airport on Monday, quoting an unnamed government source.

    "His name has been mentioned several times during interrogations of rioters arrested after the events of Laayoune in June. He has been encouraging and instigating trouble via telephone from Europe during the events," the source said.

    Ongoing calls
    "This atmosphere of tension does not assist us to make arrangements for freeing Moroccan prisoners," Mohammad said.

    Asked if that meant the prisoners would not be released, he said: "This is a group out of 2500 Moroccan prisoners of war who were held by the Polisario, all freed in good faith.

    "So how could the front dodge its decision? This is what was circulated by the Moroccan Foreign Ministry which seeks to cover up acts of repression in the occupied towns and in Laayoune in particular.

    Torture and murder
    "In Maat Allah neighbourhood, thousands of people who call for self-determination and for ending the Moroccan colonisation, are terrorised, tortured and murdered," Mohammad said.

    "In Maat Allah neighbourhood, thousands of people who call for self-determination and for ending the Moroccan colonisation, are terrorised, tortured and murdered"

    Habib Allah Mohammad,
    Polisario representative

    Morocco annexed in 1975 the former Spanish colony in a move that was not recognised internationally. The move triggered a sporadic guerrilla war with the Polisario Front.


    A UN ceasefire was brokered in 1991 with the promise of holding a referendum to decide on the fate of the area, believed to have offshore oil deposits. Disagreements about who is eligible to vote have prevented it from taking place.


    In recent years, Morocco steered clear from the independence option and stated its readiness to grant the area only a semi-autonomy while remaining under its sovereignty.


    Polisario Front pledged in May to resume its armed struggle against Morocco if there is no breakthrough in UN-led peace talks within six months.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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