As Green March turns 40, Moroccan king pledges more support to W. Saharans
As Moroccans celebrated the 40th anniversary festivities of Morocco’s Green March, a peaceful protest which successfully brought an end to Spanish colonial presence in 1975, a large demonstration also took place outside a U.N. office in the Western Saharan city of Laayoune.
Western Saharans, also known as Sahrawis, who took part in the protest criticized what they described as the lack of U.N. efforts and the international body’s failure to end the instability in the disputed territory.
They asked for more progress and declared that they backed the Moroccan king’s proposal on autonomy as well as support for proposed investments in Western Sahara.
King Mohammed VI, who was participating in the festivities passed through and the protesters cheered “Long live the King.”
The Moroccan monarch was joined by tens of thousands of Moroccans who came out to celebrate the Green March and gave what was described as a “historic” speech on Friday night in Laayoune.
Mohammed VI said Western Sahara was at the “dawn of a new era,” and further described the event as a “watershed moment in the process to complete the kingdom’s territorial integrity.”
The king stressed that the Western Sahara would continue to benefit from “advanced regionalization” and the government’s “development model.”
He added that proceeds from the region’s natural resources would be invested locally and he named several infrastructure projects that would be pushed ahead, including a desalination plant, transport links, energy projects and industrial parks.
“I am keen to make sure we provide our fellow citizens in the southern provinces with all the necessary means to enable them to manage their own affairs and show they are capable of developing their region,” King Mohammed said.
A U.N.-brokered ceasefire between Morocco and Western Saharan rebels – known as the Polisario Front – over the disputed area has been kept since 1991 but U.N. efforts to end the conflict were unsuccessful to date.
Morocco has offered some autonomy but refuses to make any more concessions.
“Those who are waiting for any other concession on Morocco’s part are deceiving themselves. Indeed, Morocco has given all there was to give,” the king said in Laayoune.
The Polisario controls a small part of the desert interior of the Western Sahara but its main base is in Tindouf across the border in Algeria, where tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees also live in desert camps.
Observers say that the speech was important on several fronts. The king addressed Sahrawis on their own home ground and on their terms; and also stressed that he will not back away from the Moroccan claim of sovereignty over the territory.
Prior to the anniversary, King Mohammad VI had issued a Royal Pardon which included 4,215 prisoners, including a number of convicted terrorists who have repented and denounced their extremist beliefs.