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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
05RABAT1129 2005-05-31 17:11:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rabat
Cable title:  

WESTERN SAHARA: UPDATE ON DEMONSTRATIONS

Tags:   KPKO MO PBTS PHUM PREL 
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1. (C) Summary: Spanish FM Moratinos reached out to both
Moroccans and Algerians in an attempt to restore "calm" to
the situation in the Western Sahara, holding separate
bilateral meetings with GOM and GOA officials in Luxembourg
May 30, and indicated his government's intention to stay
engaged in the issue. Assessing the situation, Moroccan
officials, including the Wali of Laayoune, are pointing to
the seeming organization behind the demonstrations as an
indication that they were politically motivated. Thus far,
thirty-three people have been arrested according to the
Moroccans. While the demonstrations have subsided in
Laayoune, the situation remains tense according to Sahrawi
contacts. In the meantime, pro-Sahrawi demonstrations took
place on university campuses in three Moroccan cities,
including Rabat, as well as in Spain. Emboffs plan to visit
Laayoune within the next week to get a better sense of the
issue. In the meantime, the Ambassador will have the
opportunity to ascertain the GOM perspective in his upcoming
meetings with Moroccan officials during the visit of Codel
Smith. End summary.

Moratinos Calling for "Calm"


--------------------------




2. (SBU) Spanish FM Moratinos met separately with Moroccan FM
Benaissa and former Algerian FM Belkhadem in Luxembourg May
30 on the margins of the EuroMed meeting to discuss the
recent escalation of tension in the Western Sahara, according
to Italian press agency AKI. Spanish daily El Mundo reported
that Moratinos had decided to seize the opportunity of having
both officials present in Luxembourg to hold separate
bilateral meetings to "calm the escalating tensions" in the
Western Sahara. Moratinos reportedly promised that Spain
would deploy diplomatic initatives to resolve the conflict
within the context of the United Nations. He also pledged
that his government will be increasingly involved in this
issue to contribute to a solution. His separate meetings
with Benaissa and Belkhadem follow his statements during a
joint press conference held on the eve of his departure to
Luxembourg with the Portuguese FM in which he reaffirmed that
his government would continue to deploy a series of contacts
and mediation efforts so that the diplomatic negotiations in
the UN would lead to a final resolution of the conflict.

The Wali of Laayoune Speaks Out


--------------------------




3. (SBU) Wali of Laayoune Mohamed Rharrabi held a press
conference in Laayoune May 29 to review the status of the
situation, and announced that 33 youths (including two women)
will be tried for criminal conspiracy, disturbing public
order and damage to public property during the
demonstrations. According to French daily Le Matin, the Wali
described the events "as the result of an attempt of a small
minority who made use of the atmosphere of democracy and
freedom established in Morocco as the vehicle for a hostile
and separatist discourse against the Kingdom." The Wali
further postulated that "this minority exploited the transfer
of a convict, sentenced to 12 years for drug trafficking from
a jail in Laayoune to a central prison in Ait Mellou
(southern Morocco) to organize sit-ins on public roads, which
local authorities handled with flexibility and perfect
mastery."



4. (SBU) The Wali confirmed May 31 to A/DCM much of what he
described in the press conference, including his belief that
the demonstrations were instigated by a group of people
well-known to the GOM because they are "troublemakers." This
group, who "lives in a certain area of Laayoune," he said,
exploited the administrative procedure of transferring a
known drug-dealer to another prison, and used it as a pretext
to stir up trouble. New MFA SYG, Omar Hilali, told Poloff
May 30 that he considered that the demonstrations were "too
well-coordinated" to be spontaneous, but that the GOM should
not overreact and "sink to their level." According to
Rharrabi, these troubles were deliberately provoked to harm
the lives of security forces. Rharrabi asserted, however,
that local police held back until the situation turned
violent. The demonstrators then attacked police with molotov
cocktails, stones and butagaz, injuring some 22 policemen,
according to Rharrabi.


5. (SBU) Rharrabi also told A/DCM that the GOM had initially
invited news organizations to Laayoune during the
demonstrations to promote transparency. However, Spanish and
Italian TV crews had acted "provocatively," trying to go
places where they were not allowed. (NB: MINURSO confirmed
to A/DCM that Moroccan handlers escorted crews the entire
time.) According to Rharrabi, the media crews had their own
agenda in wanting to see some action. However, Rharrabi
said, the news crews have now all departed, things have
calmed down, the instigators who have been arrested will be
tried according to regular procedures, and people are going
back to business. The Wali told A/DCM that he hopes the
incident is now "closed."

Pro-Polisario Views


--------------------------




6. (SBU) President of the Association for the Victims of the
Violations of Human Rights Committed by the Moroccan State
Brahim Dahan confirmed that there are no ongoing protests in
Laayoune as of May 31, but said that the situation remains
tense. Dahan told POLFSN that a plane full of gendarmes
landed May 31 in Laayoune, adding to the already numerous
trucks and buses that have arrived within the past few days
full of security officials. In contrast with the Wali's
tally of 33 arrests, the Polisario currently account for 40
people who they say have been arrested for various crimes
related to the demonstrations. According to a Polisario
website, sixteen of these forty were referred on May 28 to
the Laayoune Appeals Court. These 16 are still being
detained. The other 24 were referred to the Court of First
Instance, which released ten of the accused on their own
recognizance. As of May 29, according to the website,
Laayoune was still under a "de facto state of siege," with
police patrolling all night. According to press reports, the
police continue to search for other suspects for burning the
Moroccan flag and for brandishing Polisario flags.

Demonstrations Extend Beyond Laayoune


--------------------------




7. (SBU) In Rabat, a dozen people were injured May 27 when
Moroccan police dispersed a demonstration by student
supporters of Western Saharan independence, according to
Reuters. Witnesses reported that approximately 100 police
raided a local university campus to break up a protest held
in solidarity with the Laayoune demonstrations.
Approximately 80 students participated in the protest,
chanting anti-Moroccan slogans before pelting policemen
stationed in front of the campus with stones. According to
Rahmouni Daha, a Sahrawi Human Rights NGO member, six
students were arrested and later released the same day. Daha
reported that one student had raised a Polisario flag while
others shouted anti-Moroccan slogans. Pro-independence
demonstrations also occurred at university campuses in
Marrakech and Agadir, where the highest concentrations of
Sahrawi students study, on May 29-30. Dahan reported that
the situation is still tense at these two campuses which are
now surrounded by police.



8. (SBU) According to press reports, pro-Sahrawi protestors
also staged demonstrations in front of Moroccan consulates in
the Spanish cities of Seville, Algeciras and Almeria last
week to urge an end to the alleged "violent repression" in
the Western Sahara.

Comment


--------------------------




9. (C) Pictures of the demonstrations provided by Sahrawi
contacts to Emboffs showed helmeted police and gendarmes
carrying riot sticks and protective shields, but no other
weaponry. Other photos depicted hundreds of young men and
women peacefully protesting. Yet other photos indicated
Sahrawis who have clearly been beaten and showed a few
ransacked apartments. Emboffs plan to visit Laayoune within
the next week to try to get a more accurate sense of what
occurred and of what the implications the demonstrations and
the Moroccan reaction to them will have for the future of the
Sahara question. The Ambassador will also have the
opportunity to learn more about the Moroccan perspective in
his upcoming meetings with Moroccan officials, including
possibly the King and the Foreign Minister, during Codel
Smith's visit. In the meantime, we will follow up with our
Spanish colleagues to try to decipher what is behind
Moratinos' newly energetic initiative. End comment.
RILEY