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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
05RABAT1821 2005-08-29 17:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rabat
Cable title:  

DRAMA IN AGADIR: RECAPPING THE POW RELEASE

Tags:   MO PBTS PHUM PREL 
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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 RABAT 001821 

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/MAG, NEA/PD

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/02/2009
TAGS: MO PBTS PHUM PREL
SUBJECT: DRAMA IN AGADIR: RECAPPING THE POW RELEASE

REF: RABAT 1776 AND PREVIOUS

Classified By: Ambassador Thomas T. Riley for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)



1. (C) The two US charter aircraft carrying the final 404
Moroccan POWs held by the Polisario touched down at Agadir
Airport shortly after 7:30 pm local time on August 18.
Arrayed at the bottom of the stairs to greet the POWs as they
came off the aircraft were Foreign Minister Benaissa,
Minister of Interior Mustapha Sahel, Deputy Foreign Minister
Fassi Fihri, Moroccan Royal Armed Forces General Bennani,
Senator Lugar, and Ambassador Riley. This was an
unprecedented line-up for returning POWs; in the past, POWs
had been flown to the military airport in Agadir, offloaded
in perfunctory manner, and driven directly to the barracks in
Agadir for processing. They were released to their families
2-3 weeks later and were accustomed to fading away into
Moroccan society with no fanfare.



2. (SBU) Sporting new track suits, most of them red and
green (Morocco's colors), and freshly shaven, the POWs
descended the stairs one by one, each man carrying one or two
small duffel bags. They shook hands with the Moroccan
officials, who welcomed them somberly, and then with the two
beaming Americans before being directed to large tourist
buses lined up near the tarmac. Ambassador noted that most
of the men avoided eye contact with their greeters, perhaps
reflecting their years of subservience as prisoners.



3. (C) The Moroccans had done their best throughout the
organization of the Lugar mission to keep the event low-key,
but their best laid plans came to naught on the tarmac in
Agadir. Throughout the afternoon, prior to the arrival of
Senator Lugar and the POWs, Embassy officers had wrangled
with airport officials and their superiors to allow Moroccan
and international press to have access to the tarmac.
Authorization was granted and revoked several times over the
course of the afternoon; at one point, emboffs started to set
up a podium and lay down a carpet on the approximate site
where the charter planes would park, only to be ordered off
the tarmac by the regional military commander, who only an
hour earlier had granted authorization for the move. "There
has been a change," he said without elaborating.



4. (C) The leaking of the Lugar mission in the international
press more than 24 hours before his arrival created intense
interest in the mission in Morocco, and ultimately enhanced
media coverage. By the afternoon of August 18, some 40
journalists and cameramen had congregated outside Agadir
Airport (even while the embassy had invited many Moroccan
journalists to a formal press conference in Tetouan the
following day). Shortly before 6 pm, airport officials
agreed to provide the journalists with badges so they could
enter the airport, but on condition that they be corralled in
one of the departure lounges. The authorities instructed us
that Senator Lugar was free to come to the lounge to address
the press, but the journalists would not be allowed onto the
tarmac.



5. (C) There was not a sufficient security presence to carry
out that directive, however, and as soon as Senator Lugar's
aircraft landed at approximately 7:00 PM, a number of the
journalists walked unrestrained toward his plane to take
pictures. Though they could not get physically close to the
Senator, or to the Moroccan officials and Ambassador Riley
who went out to receive the Senator, they could film his
arrival without obstruction.



6. (C) The scene at the VIP lounge, however, where the
Senator, Ambassador, and Moroccan ministers gathered to await
the arrival of the POW plane, was more chaotic. The embassy
had granted requests to four prominent TV stations -- RTM and
2M from Morocco, Al-Jazeera, and al-Hurra -- for short,
exclusive interviews with Senator Lugar. Once on the ground
and realizing there was some time before the POWs arrived,
Lugar's staff suggested the Senator begin his interviews
right away. As the four lucky TV crews were summoned to the
VIP lounge, other members of the press corps surged forward
and had to be restrained by a combination of Moroccan
security and embassy PAS officers. As Senator Lugar prepared
to start his first interview in one corner of the VIP lounge,
emboffs grabbed the PAS FSN slated to oversee the interviews
and pulled him into the VIP lounge, away from agitated
members of the press corps demanding access to the site, and
Moroccan security closed the door firmly behind him.



7. (C) As the first POW plane touched down around 7:30 PM,
Lugar and the Ambassador got up to head out to the aircraft
to greet the arrivals. The four Moroccan officials departed
also, and all assembled planeside. The Moroccans had staged
the offloading on a distant runway, and all of the buses to
ferry the prisoners to the barracks were concealed behind a
wall of high trees. But by this time news of what was
happening had circulated all over the airport, and airport
personnel and all of the journalists from the pen, along with
dozens of security officials, had gathered on the tarmac. A
crowd of roughly 150 people was now on hand.



8. (C) Security officials attempted to keep the press corps
from approaching the POWs directly, but several cameramen
eluded them and got next to the stairs before being hustled
away. The security officials eventually locked hands to form
a semi-circular "cordon sanitaire" around the area to keep
the press at bay, but newsmen were still plenty close to
collect footage and capture the moment.



9. (C) The POWs looked weary and somewhat disbelieving as
the door of the aircraft opened and they filed down the
stairs. There were no shouts or raised fists or waving.
Most of them probably had little idea who was greeting them
at the bottom of the stairs -- with the exception of Senator
Lugar, whom they may have seen on the Tindouf side. The
airport staff who had come out to witness the proceedings
were riveted and displayed visible emotion. Most of the men
exited on their own, but a few descended on crutches or with
assistance, and several were placed directly into wheelchairs.



10. (C) One prisoner broke the mold, however: when his feet
touched the tarmac, he pitched forward and fell to his knees,
kissing the ground and crying out in anguished relief. The
press swarmed around him. Another man excitedly shook
Senator Lugar's hand and in heavily accented English
exclaimed, "Thank you!" and "Viva George Bush."



11. (U) When the first plane was empty, Senator Lugar
returned to the VIP Lounge. Completing his last interviews,
he swept out to the podium, and under bright lights (it was
now dark), read his prepared statement to the press and
departed.



12. (U) Senator Lugar was wheels up from Agadir at
approximately 8 PM.

RILEY