By Owei Lakemfa
MOROCCO is an ancient civilisation with an existingÂ 17th Century monarchy. The current King MohammedÂ VIÂ who is 45, celebrated his 10th year on the throneÂ from July 23, the exact date of his coronation, into early August, 2009.
As part of the festivities, he granted pardon to 24,865 prisoners, including 517 pregnant women andÂ women with children. He also pardoned 137 minors, 659 inmates of different nationalities, while commuting 32 death sentences.
In all these, the King convenientlyÂ side- tracked the main issue of Morocco returningÂ Â stolen lands to the owners: theÂ Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), formerly known as Western Sahara.
The entire territory was stolen by powerful Morocco during the reign of King Hassan II, the incumbentâ€™s father.
The territory was initially seizedÂ by Spain after the 1885 Berlin Conference where European powers in sharing the booty of their stolen territories apportioned it to the Spaniards. But due to the tenacious resistance put up by the people, Spain could not take full possession until 1934 when the people were conquered with the aid of the French colonial army.
NeighbouringÂ Moroccoâ€™s independenceÂ on March 2, 1956 revived anti-colonial agitations in the territory. The United Nations (UN) in 1966 as part of its decolonisation policyÂ asked for self- determination by the Sahrawi people. On May 11, 1967 Spain issued a decree accepting this.
That December, the UN asked the colonial power to organise a referendum on self-determination under UN auspices.
On June 17, 1970 following popular protests for independence, 40 Sahrawis were killed. That year Spain agreed to recognise the right of the people to independence. Morocco, the territoryâ€™s big brotherÂ to the north enthusiastically welcomed this.
King Hassan held a press conference on July 30, 1970 where he enunciated a programme for the colonyÂ and demanded “… the departure ofÂ the non-AfricansÂ (the colonialists)and allowing the people of the Sahara to choose between life under the Moroccan aegis, under their own aegis, or under any other aegis”.
In 1972 a major political feat was recorded when various political groups in the territoryÂ established aÂ political movement, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguiet al- Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO).Â Morocco,Â obviously with an eye on the territoryâ€™s rich mineral phosphates and fishes, began to covet its neighbourâ€™s riches by seeking toÂ seize the colony.
In laying its claims, Morocco went to the UN asking it to refer the ownership of the territory to the International Court of Justice(ICJ). This the world body did. But without waiting for the outcome, Morocco at the October 1974 Arab Summit in Rabat its capital,Â enlisted another neighbour, Mauritania (which bordersÂ the territory on the east and south) to jointly seize and share the colony.
The UNâ€™s fact-finding Mission to the territory in its October 1975 ReportÂ concluded thatÂ theÂ people desire total independence like other former colonies and that their undisputed representative body is the POLISARIO.
TheÂ ICJ on October 16, 1975 ruled by a 15 to 1 decision that the territory belonged to the Sahrawi peopleÂ before it became a colony andÂ therefore it belongs to the people not another sovereignty.
King Hassan rejected the ruling and ordered Moroccans to march on the colony in what became known as the â€œ Green Marchâ€. It was later stopped by Spain.
However on November 14, 1975 Spain the departing colonial power entered into a secret agreement with Morocco and Mauritania allowing the African countries to invadeÂ the colony and share it; a replacement of European colonialism with African colonialism.
Spain on February 26, 1976 departed, handing over the territory to the new colonialists. But the OAU rejected thisÂ and in 1982 admitted the newly born Republic as its 51st member. Morocco rejected the OAU decision and on November 12, 1982 withdrew from the body.
The two SADR neighbours found the riches of theÂ new country too tantalizing to let go, but through armed struggle, Mauritania was forced to withdraw and acknowledge the independence of the area. Rather than follow in the Mauritanian footsteps, the gluttonous Moroccan state decided to swallow the part Mauritania gave up.
In a renewed effort to peacefully resolve the conflict, the UN in itsÂ 1985 Resolution 4050 set out a plan with â€œ.. the aim to organise a free and fair referendum on self-determination by which the people of Western Sahara will be able to choose between independence and integration with Moroccoâ€.
Five years later, it established a UN Mission (MINURSO) with a mandate to organise the referendum which was scheduled for February 1992 but Morocco again was the stumbling block.
The UN Security Council requested the AmericanÂ political leader James BakerÂ to work out a new plan. The Baker PlanÂ Â released in July 2003 proposed aÂ five-year autonomy under Moroccan rule followed by a referendum of self â€“determinationÂ in which the SADR people and Moroccans in the territory will vote. While the POLISARIO accepted the plan, Morocco rejected it.
Morocco in 2007 launched its own plan of granting autonomy to the territoryÂ under its rule. With the falseÂ campaign thatÂ an independent Saharawi will be a haven forÂ Al Qaida , the United States (US) and some of its allies bought the phoney programme. But theÂ Barack Obama administration has reportedly jettisoned this and wants the peoples independence to stand.
Morocco does not appear prepared to give up the territory it has stolen and has defied international opinion and resolutions especially by the UN because it has the backing of powerful countries, especially European.
It is not impossible thatÂ as an independent nation , the Saharawi Republic may opt for a union with Morocco or any other country as Zanzibar did with Tangayika to found Tanzania. But that will be a decision by a sovereign people.
Decent humanity need to unite against this infamous theft; call Morocco to order and ensure that the SaharawisÂ like otherÂ peoples who emerged from colonialismÂ Â live in an independent country free from external intimidation and violence.