|06RABAT2010||2006-10-30 11:21:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Rabat|
1. (C) At a Polisario "base" East of the berm separating Moroccan and
Polisario forces, a Polisario Political/Military commander told an
Embassy team and MINURSO commander October 12 that he and his
comrades were flexible and prepared to talk, but could not compromise
the Sahrawis' right to self-determination. Polcouns cautioned
Commandante Ibrahim Biyadillah that MINURSO's presence should not be
taken for granted indefinitely and urged the Polisario to consider
direct talks with the GOM. For his part, Ibrahim
Asserted that the Polisario bore "no ill will toward Morocco," but
warned that a MINURSO withdrawal could lead to a resumptionof
hostilities. End summary.
"Nothing Left but our Trousers"
2. (C) On October 12, polcouns, poloff, and army attach were brought
by MINURSO Commander Maj. Gen. Kurt Mosgaard (Denmark), and his team,
to visit a Polisario base in Western Sahara, in the remote and
desolate area outside the Berm.
3. (C) In a meeting following a brief tour (below),
Commandante Mohammed Ibrahim Biyadullah told us that the Polisario
remained committed to a "democratic solution" to the conflict. "We
have made many concessions... we have nothing left but our
trousers... but we cannot concede the right of our people to
determine their own future," he stated. Noting that the
international community had successfully intervened against the will
of the occupying power to resolve territorial disputes in Kuwait and
East Timor, Ibrahim lamented that the UN's Baker Plan had never been
implemented, despite considerable international effort and support.
There had been no pressure exerted on Morocco to accept Baker's
compromise, which the Polisario had endorsed.
4. (C) Ibrahim affirmed that the Polisario "still have the patience
to wait for a solution" but conceded that it was "difficult to
convince my soldiers they have to wait forever." "The cease-fire is
helping the Moroccans continue their violations," he stated,
repeating that a "democratic and transparent referendum" could
resolve the conflict once and for all. Ibrahim regretted Morocco's
continued resistance to a referendum "even under terms favorable to
Morocco." He described tentative talk of a Moroccan autonomy plan as
"a grave mistake," and a regression to proposals aired 30 years ago.
"Morocco can not just turn back the clock," he stated.
Facing the Facts
5. (C) Thanking Ibrahim for his hospitality, Polcouns noted that the
USG appreciated the Polisario's willingness to make compromises, and
its patience and superb discipline in strictly adhering to the
ceasefire. For better or worse, Polcouns continued, the fact was
that the Baker Plan has not been implemented. He urged the Polisario
look forward to
find a solution rather than fixate on the past. It was time to
contemplate new solutions to end the stalemate that had kept his men
and their families in camps and on the front line for a generation.
6. (C) At the same time, the international environment has continued
to evolve, Polcouns cautioned. Given the urgency of crises elsewhere
in the world, such as Lebanon, MINURSO should not be taken for
granted as having an open-ended mandate. At present, Western Sahara
was again an item of growing importance on the international agenda.
Polcouns urged that the Polisario leadership think hard about a
formula in which it might be willing to sit face to face with
the GOM to work out a permanent solution. The USG has been pressing
the GOM hard to come up with a credible, meaningful and detailed
autonomy plan -- a plan which could be an important stepping stone to
a final resolution. Direct dialogue between the GOM and the
Polisario offers the best hope for a lasting solution, Polcouns
affirmed, and noted that when the parties are ready, the USG was
prepared to facilitate such talks.
"No Ill Will"
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7. (C) In response, Ibrahim repeatedly pointed to indications of
Moroccan bad faith. He asserted that Morocco had consistently gone
back on compromises and agreements it made with the UN. It has
blocked the humanitarian exchanges of families, an agreed confidence
building measure. (Note: Since the meeting Morocco has agreed to
re-start the flights.) He
also expressed concern that the continuing Moroccan
occupation has only led to oppression of the Sahrawis under their
control. Why can the international community not succeed in doing
anything about this? He pointed to the recently proposed trip to
Laayoune by a European Parliament delegation that had been blocked by
8. (C) Ibrahim said "from the bottom of our hearts, we have no ill
will toward the Moroccan people or the Moroccan throne... Our duty is
to live together in mutual respect...but history shows that Western
Sahara is not part of Morocco," adding that the Moroccan presence in
Sahara "lacks legal legitimacy." Turning to MINURSO Commander Gen.
Mosgaard, Ibrahim lamented that the mission had never fulfilled its
mandate to conduct a referendum but added that MINURSO "has at least
provided protection to the Sahrawi people." Asked by Army Attach
what would happen if MINURSO
departed the area, Ibrahim replied with a grave expression and
without hesitation: "We would go back to war. We know how to defend
ourselves. This is our fate." Polcouns briefly countered that no one
knew better than the Commandante the impossibility of a favorable
military solution. Reverting to arms, even symbolically, would only
worsen his people,s prospects.
In the Desert: The Polisario's Second Military District
9. (C) The base, headquarters of the Polisario's "Second Military
District" is located in Tifariti, approximately 300km east of
Laayounne and about 15 km north of the Mauritanian border. The base
is approximately 3km from a MINURSO "team site," or forward observer
base, manned by 14 multinational personnel. The MINURSO personnel at
the site enjoy good relations with their Polisario neighbors. A
Polisario "liaison officer" is assigned to and often present at the
UN team site.
10. (C) The Polisario district headquarters is composed of a handful
of small, spartan one story buildings on a scorched rocky rise in the
midst of the desolate Saharan desert. After the formal welcome
Commandante Mohammed Ibrahim Biyadillah (Note: Polisario fighters do
not assume military ranks. End note.) led visitors on a tour of the
honor guard of roughly 50 mostly middle-aged Polisario
fighters, carrying well-tended AK-47 rifles and wearing fairly new,
clean and pressed battle fatigues, greeted the USG and UN visitors.
Aside from the honor guard, and several vehicles with Polisario
insignias, no other militarypersonnel or equipment were in evidence.
11. (C) Prior to 1991, there was a small village and remnants of a
Spanish district office at the site, which apparently has a source of
water. The Moroccans destroyed the village in a 1991 ground-air
assault, in retaliation for a Polisario attack, one of the last
hostile acts before the cease fire. The Sahrawis pointed out the
Spanish dispensary, noting they
had left it in its half rubble state as a memorial. A short distance
away lies the hulk of a destroyed Moroccan T-54 tank from 1991,
12. (C) The adjacent Polisarion HQ "compound" has a
"museum," a pupil-less school building and an adjacent small hospital
building that had just been built with funds and technical assistance
from Spanish Provincial governments and NGOs. The museum's exhibit
featured the remains of a Moroccan Air Force jet downed by the
Polisario in the 1970s, a display of other modern and traditional
weaponry, inspirational artwork by Polisario fighters and family
members, and some testimonials of alleged human rights abuses of
Sahrawis in Moroccan custody. There was no habitation
visible. We were told that the only civilians in the
district were nomads, who rotated family members in from the Tindouf
camps. A few Polisario fighters" apparently stay the site and in
outposts between the village and the berm.
13. (C) After our meeting, following a break at the team site, we
were brought back to the very same compound, this time to meet an
international Humanitarian Demining NGO, who were the real occupants
of the "school" buildings, an in-kind contribution to their effort
from the Polisario. They were in the initial stages of a mine
survey, and eventual clearance project for areas on the "Polisario"
side of the berm.
14. (C) Ibrahim told polcouns that he would report the
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content of our discussions directly to Mohammed Abdel Aziz, President
of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (RASD). Responding to
questions about the Polisario's leadership structure, Ibrahim told us
that in addition to President Abdel Aziz (who is also
Secretary-General of the Polisario, the overall liberation movement,
a position he has held since
1976), the Polisario is guided by a 36 member National
Secretariat, the supreme decision-making body elected by a larger
General Popular Congress, which is convened every four years.
Ibrahim said he was a member of this Secretariat, but not part of the
4-5 person inner cabinet around Abdel Aziz.
15. (C) A field commander and a political figure in the Polisario
Movement, Ibrahim appeared somewhat flexible, perhaps born of a
visible weariness of the prospect of an entire lifetime in camp or in
the desert. MINURSO considers him a moderate, at least compared to
his 'hot head' colleagues in the southern districts. Although he
repeatedly spoke about a referendum, Ibrahim insisted only on
self-determination. He did not appear to condition his own
readiness for talks with the Moroccans. He made clear
however his lack of confidence in the Kingdom, this will likely have
to rise if talks were to go forward. As a result, there is no reason
to believe that he would accept a take-it-or leave it fait accompli.
16. (C) Clearly a politician, Ibrahim did not appear to be looking at
present to go back to war, and neither did his troops. Their sharp
dress but unthreatening overall mien suggests to our relatively
untrained eyes that they may be being sustained (by Algeria) to keep
up appearances, but not much more. (See reftel on MINURSO for