This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ALGIERS 001768
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/20/2015 TAGS: PREL PHUM PBTS WI AG MO SUBJECT: SENATOR LUGAR'S MEETING WITH POLISARIO LEADER ABDELAZIZ
REF: ALGIERS 1753
Classified By: Ambassador Richard W. Erdman, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (C) Summary: In an August 18 meeting with Senator Lugar, Polisario leader Abdelaziz thanked him, the U.S., and President Bush for their help in releasing to the International Red Cross the final 404 Polisario-held prisoners scheduled to return to their families in Morocco. Abdelaziz hoped the U.S. would now contribute to ending the suffering of the Sahrawi people. Abdelaziz blamed Morocco for the failure of the Baker Plan, noting that the Sahrawis would abide by the results of a vote to determine the future status of the Western Sahara and, if the voters chose independence, would be a good neighbor to Morocco. The Sahrawis want to enjoy the same rights and freedoms as Americans. Abdelaziz asked for independent, international observers to verify his claims that Morocco pursues an "oppressive and violent" campaign against Sahrawis resident in areas of the Western Sahara under Moroccan control. For his part, Senator Lugar said he and President Bush appreciated the humanitarian step that was being taken to release the remaining prisoners. He hoped it would encourage others, alleviate tensions, and set an example elsewhere in the world. End Summary.
APPRECIATION FOR U.S. HELP
2. (C) During the Tindouf portion of his visit to Algeria August 18, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, accompanied by his Chief of Staff and PolEc Chief, met with Polisario leader Abdelaziz in his office shortly after Abdelaziz announced the release of all Moroccan prisoners held by the Polisario. Abdelaziz opened the meeting by thanking Senator Lugar for his visit and expressing his regret that Lugar's schedule did not allow him more time to familiarize himself with Sahrawi issues and visit the camps of Sahrawi refugees. Abdelaziz thanked Lugar for his efforts and asked that he convey to President Bush, who had asked Lugar to undertake this presidential mission, his gratitude for the President Bush's efforts and those of the U.S. in reaching agreement to hand over to the International Red Cross the final group of Polisario-held prisoners for the trip home to their families in Morocco.
3. (C) Abdelaziz noted that the Polisario once held 2,255 Moroccan prisoners, and on the occasion of Senator Lugar's visit was releasing the remaining 404 still in custody. Abdelaziz remarked that, "In recognition of humanitarian interests, I express my gratitude to the U.S. Government. This is not the first prisoner release with the help of the U.S.," but it will be the last. Abdelaziz said the prisoners were but one aspect of Sahrawi suffering since the beginning of the conflict. The Polisario hoped this latest U.S. mediation would help to put to an end the suffering of the Sahrawi people. The Sahrawi people had two basic concerns, explained Abdelaziz, the refusal of the Moroccan Government to abide by international law and regulations, including those of the United Nations, and a second humanitarian concern.
MOROCCO TO BLAME FOR THE FAILURE OF THE BAKER PLAN
4. (C) It was the policy of the Moroccan Government that led to the failure of the seven-year effort by James Baker to bring the long-standing conflict to an end, stressed Abdelaziz. The Sahrawi people asked for respect and their right to self-determination. They were not and are not asking for the impossible. The Polisario sought a democratic solution and asked that the UN be allowed to organize a referendum on the future status of the Western Sahara. The Polisario, declared Abdelaziz, "shall respect the outcome of the referendum, whatever that outcome may be. If the Sahrawi people decide to be free, as the American people decided to be free, Morocco should respect that decision."
SAHRAWIS WANT TO FOLLOW THE U.S. EXAMPLE
5. (C) Abdelaziz pledged that the Sahrawi people, should they become independent, would be good neighbors to Morocco and would not harm or be a threat to the stability of the Kingdom. The Sahrawis had made a choice to pursue what they have prepared for themselves over the last 30 years: a democratic country based on principles and values of the United States and its Constitution. Abdelaziz said the Sahrawis, despite living in an arid, Arab and Muslim region sought the same rights as Americans: freedom of expression, faith, and religion. The Sahrawis, said Abdelaziz, will protect themselves from extremist ideas. He hoped the U.S. would promote a quick solution to these issues by pressuring Morocco to agree to the holding of a referendum.
MOROCCO NEEDS TO MAKE GESTURES OF ITS OWN
6. (C) On the second and humanitarian concern of the Sahrawis, Abdelaziz made reference to an "oppressive, violent" campaign by Morocco against Sahrawis resident in Moroccan-held areas of the Western Sahara. Sahrawis, complained Abdelaziz, had been beaten while exercising their freedom of expression. Sahrawi prisoners were on a hunger strike in Moroccan jails. These prisoners' only crime was to demonstrate in the streets against Moroccan suppression of their rights. Some prisoners had been tortured and injured. Abdelaziz requested that independent, international observers be permitted to enter these areas in order to assess conditions.
7. (C) The Sahrawi people, continued Abdelaziz, had no indication of the whereabouts of 150 Polisario prisoners of war held by Morocco. There was no information on them at all. Five hundred Sahrawi citizens had disappeared in Morocco, asserted the Polisario leader. "We want to know what happened to them. We are families of prisoners, detained and disappeared."
LUGAR APPRECIATES HUMANITARIAN GESTURE; PLEDGES TO HELP
8. (C) Senator Lugar thanked Abdelaziz for sharing his views. The Senator expressed appreciation for his hospitality and for his remarks earlier in the day upon the release of the final group of prisoners (copy of speech faxed to NEA/MAG and Embassy Rabat). Lugar explained that he was meeting with him, the Algerian President, and the King of Morocco because President Bush was very interested in these issues and had asked Lugar to come to the region. Referring to the U.S. President, Lugar said, "He and I appreciate the humanitarian gesture so that the released prisoners can return to their families."
9. (C) There was important work to be done, emphasized the Senator, and our emphasis would be on getting the parties promptly to return to the UN and observance of international law. Lugar said he would make formal remarks at the Tindouf airport following his meeting with Abdelaziz but noted that the "humanitarian work you undertook today will encourage others and will alleviate tensions and set an example elsewhere in the world. Other countries must understand and seize the importance of the ideas you discussed today. In my modest way, I will be of help."
10. (U) Senator Lugar did not have an opportunity to clear this message.