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06RABAT539 2006-03-27 19:16:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rabat
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1. (C) King Mohammed spent five days in the Western Sahara,
March 20-25, his first visit to the disputed territory since
March 2002. The timing of the visit, coming amidst a public
consultation process on autonomy and private diplomacy by
Moroccan Deputy FM Fassi Fihri with Paris and Washington, and
perhaps London, seems specifically designed to reaffirm --
whatever lies ahead -- Morocco's utmost determination to hold
on to the Western Sahara and to continue a process leading to
autonomy whether it has international buy-in or not. (The
English text of the King's speech can be found at

2. (C) Key events during the King's five-day visit included:

-- the King's March 21 meeting with Libyan envoy Ahmed Qadhaf
al-Dam, in what we believe is the first meeting between a
Moroccan king and a foreign official in the Western Sahara
since the end of Spanish colonial rule in 1974. Al-Dam
reportedly stressed Libyan support for the unity of the
Maghreb in public remarks following the meeting.

-- the King's reportedly spontaneous March 22 visit to
Maatallah, a neighborhood rocked by pro-independence
demonstrations over the last eight months and supposedly a
bastion of anti-Moroccan sentiment. The King was shown
shaking hands with residents of the neighborhood.

-- During a March 21 speech, GOM Communication Minister Nabil
Benabdullah indicated in public remarks from Laayoune that
Morocco's autonomy plan could be delayed to ensure that the
GOM had sufficient time to analyze the various proposals from
Moroccan political parties, due for submission to the palace
on March 31.

-- On March 20, the King announced the pardoning of 216
Sahrawi prisoners. Absent from those pardoned were several
prominent Sahrawi activists, such as Ali Salem Tamek and
Brahim Dahane.

-- the King inaugurated numerous development projects
throughout the visit totaling millions of dollars in
apparently new assistance. The projects included upgrades in
health, clean drinking water, sanitation, port expansion,
literacy programs, and mosque construction.

The King's Speech


3. (U) The climax of the visit, however, was the King's
televised address to the nation from Laayoune on March 27,
his final act before departing the territory for Casablanca.
In front of the entire cabinet and assembled Sahrawi tribal
and local leaders, the King delivered a short, hard-hitting
speech reaffirming Morocco's unwavering commitment to the
Sahara. Juxtaposing the country's adherence to the Sahara
with praise for the Moroccan armed forces, the King
emphasized "we shall not give up one inch of our beloved
Sahara, nor a grain of its sand." He stressed Morocco's
commitment to autonomy, situating it as a national project
and reaffirming that the consultation process now underway,
"which is making headway," will lead to a "final solution to
the artificial dispute over the Moroccanness of our Sahara."

4. (U) The centerpiece of the speech, and now to Morocco's
way forward, however, was the revitalization of the Royal
Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS), which has been
largely moribund for the last several years. The council
will be expanded to 134 members, the vast majority of whom
are Sahrawis (or at least have Sahrawi names), including 14
women and the father of Polisario President Abdelaziz, now
about eighty years old and residing in Morocco. There is no
timeline in the speech as to when the council is to conclude
its work or make recommendations, beyond a statement that,
"in the not too distant future," the King hopes it will be
possible "to fashion a national, realistic perception for a
self-rule formula."

5. (U) The King selected as head of the CORCAS the current
mayor of Laayoune, Khali Henna Ould Er-Rachid. Er-Rachid has
never figured prominently in Saharan affairs, though he has
held numerous visible posts, such as Secretary of State in
charge of Saharan Affairs from 1979-1983, and Minister in
Charge of Development of the Southern provinces in 1985.
Er-Rachid has been active in Moroccan political parties as
well. In a March 6 meeting with him at his home in Rabat
(Ref A), Er-Rachid remarked to us that he himself had not
been consulted for his views on autonomy, a remark that
seemed to capture some of the hesitation or passivity that
characterizes the process of national consultation (Ref B)
underway since early March.



6. (C) There is little in the King's actions from the last
week, from beginning to end of this Sahara sojourn, that
suggests a spirit of compromise on the way ahead. Rather,
the King has reaffirmed, in no uncertain terms, his intention
to forge ahead with an autonomy plan whose implementation
will hinge less on international support and more on its
adherence to Morocco's needs. While the events of the last
week may not be intended as deliberate provocations, we see
no olive branches either to Algeria, the Polisario, or
dissident Sahrawis in the King's speech; in fact, we have
received several reports that additional Sahrawis have been
detained, including some embassy contacts, since the King
arrived in the Western Sahara one week ago. Nevertheless, in
the coming weeks, we will be interested to see whether our
initial skepticism of the CORCAS proves unfounded, or whether
the new Council can spearhead a serious attempt at getting
widespread Sahrawi buy-in for the way ahead.

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