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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09RABAT706 2009-08-17 17:05 2010-12-03 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rabat

DE RUEHRB #0706/01 2291734
R 171734Z AUG 09
C O N F I D E N T I A L RABAT 000706



E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/17/2019


Classified By: Charge d'Affaires, a.i., Robert P. Jackson for reasons 1
.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: Although the Western Sahara negotiations
have now re-started (Reftel), the conflict is 34 years old.
The Government of Morocco (GOM) has invested tremendous
resources in the territory, and some observers estimate that
it spends USD 2.7 billion per year on the territory and its
385,000 residents. The level of development and of social
services clearly exceeds the level in Morocco proper.
Significant voter participation )- despite a Polisario call
for a boycott -- in the June 12 local elections may be a sign
that support for independence is waning although support for
self-government is real. Serious human rights abusers have
been transferred, and respect for human rights in the
territory has greatly improved, reaching the same plane as in
Morocco. However, advocating independence is still a red
line, and the GOM refuses to register pro-Polisario NGOs.
Giving the territory more autonomy, improving
Algerian-Moroccan relations, enhancing regional integration,
building real confidence, and addressing all parties,
propaganda seem essential to resolving the conflict. End

2. (C) Since King Hassan II launched the Green March in
1975, the Western Sahara issue has been intimately linked to
the stability of the throne and Morocco itself. Hassan,
twice victim of coup attempts and for years at war with the
left, used Western Sahara to bolster nationalism and park his
army far away in the desert. More recently, however, that
link has blurred. King Mohammed VI is more secure,
maintained in power more by love than fear and facing no
apparent major domestic threat. He recently has somewhat
distanced himself from the issue, however, and has not
visited the territory in three years, a stark contrast to his
peripatetic ribbon cutting throughout the Kingdom.

3. (C) The GOM continues to subsidize the territory and
provide tax and duty exemptions that form the base of much of
the private fortunes there (mostly key clans loyal to the
throne and a few senior military). Despite some siphoning,
the investment has produced higher levels of urban
development than in comparably sized cities in Morocco proper
and made the capital, Laayoune, the first city without any
shantytowns. Social indicators such as access to and level
of education and availability of health care and social
facilities exceed Moroccan norms and far surpass those in
comparably sized Morocco,s cities. Growth in Morocco has
made these expenditures much more bearable to Rabat,s
exchequer than they once were.

4. (SBU) In April 2009, a local weekly newsmagazine TelQuel
published an article laying out and likely even exaggerating
what the Sahara was costing Morocco. TelQuel claimed that
the GOM has spent 1.2 trillion dirhams on the territory since
1975 and is spending 3 percent of GDP or USD 2.7 billion per
year, including the funds to maintain two-thirds of the Royal
Armed Forces in Western Sahara. (Note: TelQuel faced no
consequences for the article. Even with the relative
expansion of the freedom of the press in Morocco to cover
subjects formerly taboo, this was astonishing. End Note.)

5. (C) In the June 12 local elections, &First Friend8
Fouad Ali el Himma,s Party of Authenticity and Modernity
(PAM) challenged local Laayoune strongman and Royal
Consultative Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS) head
Kalihenna Ould er Rachid. The PAM lost, despite having an el
Himma protege installed. The Ould er Rachid family and clan
control the Tammany Hall-like Istiqlal party machine that has
run the territory for many years, and played a major part in
winning the Prime Minister,s chair for party head Abbas El
Fassi. Voter participation in the Sahara, stoked by clan
rivalries, was far above the norm, despite a
Polisario-declared boycott. Some pro-independence Sahrawis
reportedly voted for the Ould er Rachid because they alone
were deemed strong enough to stand up to the government in
Rabat. This real political competition, while perhaps not
democracy, seems far more open than the Cuba-like Polisario
system. It underscores the fact that there is a significant
part of the population of the Sahrawi territory, in addition
to most immigrants, who support Moroccan sovereignty.

6. (C) After it took control of Western Sahara, Morocco
tried to affect any vote by promoting immigration by its
nationals, who now are well over half of the some 385,000
residents of the territory. Perhaps half of the immigrants,
however, were themselves Sahrawis, from areas just north of
the dividing line that were also home to some of the most
nationalistic Sahrawis. In a referendum that could include
independence, they are not seen by the GOM as reliable
voters, partly explaining GOM reluctance to go to a vote.
(Comment: Curiously, we know of no advocate of independence
that has ever claimed the &Sahrawi8 territories in Morocco,
Algeria or Mauritania as part of a national homeland,
although some members of the CORCAS unsuccessfully tried to
include the Moroccan parts in the autonomous region, when it
was first proposed. The absence of such larger nationalism,
along with the Polisario,s 1970,s war against Mauritania
--the world,s only Sahrawi state -- suggest the conflict is
less nationalist than geopolitical, linked to the much older
dispute between Algeria and Morocco, and hardly boosts the
case for an independent state. End Comment.)

7. (C) Given the small population at stake, Spain,s
granting of Spanish nationality, with the possibility of
migrating to Spain, its nearby Canary Islands or elsewhere in
Europe, is significant, and, indeed in better times,
resettlement could be a simple way of resolving the plight of
the refugees.

Who Counts?

8. (C) The UN process recognizes the parties in the
negotiations as Morocco and the Polisario. This asymmetry
makes any resolution difficult, as it does not recognize the
determinative role of Algiers, which the Moroccans see as
their real adversary in this dispute. It also neglects the
diverse views among the Sahrawis.

--------------------------------------------- -
Human Rights: Progress but Continuing Paranoia
--------------------------------------------- -

9. (U) The human rights situation in the territory has
dramatically improved since a brief &intifada8 in 2005.
Like Morocco itself, Western Sahara has come a very long way
from the mass disappearances of the &years of lead8 during
Hassan II,s reign. Pro-Polisario Sahrawis are able to
organize under the rubric of human rights activists, which
most of them legitimately pursue, such as last year,s RFK
award winner, Aminatou Haidar from the Sahrawi Collective of
Human Rights Defenders (CODESA). In just over a year,
restrictions on their international travel have disappeared.

10. (C) Since mid-2008, once common beatings and arbitrary
imprisonment have also essentially ceased. One key to the
reduction in abuses last year was the transfer of
long-serving security officials with consistent records as
abusers. Activists and officials confirmed in July 2009 that
more transfers (many by promotion) had recently taken place,
and most well known abusers are reportedly now gone. All
sources report the territory is quiet, with residents hopeful
for some political progress.

11. (C) What opponents of Morocco cannot do is explicitly
organize in favor of independence or a referendum thereon,
nor can they publish or even distribute tracts on the
subject. In addition, they are denied by the government the
right to operate as legal entities. Establishing these
rights would not only be just, but would help build
confidence in a consensual solution that would involve
re-integration. The Sahrawi Association of Human Rights
Victims (ASVDH) has even obtained court approval for its
registration as an NGO and won on appeal lodged by the
Interior Ministry (MOI), but has not been able to get local
officials to accept its registration. The USG has pushed for
this for some time. We recently heard that the local Wali
has proposed to MOI that it accept the registration but the
decision is pending. We should press the GOM on this both
here and in Washington.

12. (C) Despite this substantial progress, which leaves the
human rights situation in Western Sahara nearly equivalent to
Morocco, Morocco campaigned for most of the year and spent
scarce diplomatic capital in a successful effort to push back
proposals for the UN to have a monitoring role on this issue.
It is possible that they have understood the opportunity
costs of that strategy and appear more recently to have been
somewhat less vocal on the issue.

What the People Want

13. (C) Extensive interviews and independent sources in the
territory suggest that the principal goal of most Sahrawis is
more self-government than self-determination; a desire more
for protection and identity than independence, an army and
embassies. The small vocally pro-Polisario minority,
including many of the human rights activists, formerly
enjoyed the support of the &silent majority8 of these
Sahrawis, particularly during periods of repression.
Development and reduced oppression have reduced this support.
The Sahrawi &silent majority8 in the territory has been
intrigued by the prospect of autonomy and has generally
quietly awaited its development. Recently, a pro-Polisario
activist, when asked, confided to us that he believed that in
a free election held now a majority of voters in the
territory would choose autonomy.

On the Other Side of the Berm

14. (C) While not the competent Mission to comment on the
Polisario or the camps, Embassy Rabat understands the
situation for the refugees in Tindouf is difficult but
support for the Polisario appears strong. Nevertheless, we
hear from credible Sahrawis that there is growing interest
there in a negotiated solution, belying the stories of
unrealistic saber-rattling, frequently attributed to Sahrawi
youth. GOM calls for a census and audit of international
programs seem reasonable to us. Finally, if there is no
prospect of a solution, re-settlement should be considered an
option. The Spanish decision in 2008 to accord passports to
1975 residents of its former colony could be implemented in
Tindouf as it has been in Laayoune (but not in the current
economic climate).

Frozen Negotiations

15. (C) Meanwhile, the UN Secretary General,s Personal
Envoy for Western Sahara has struggled to get the UN
negotiations back on track. The negotiation process
re-started in 2007, after Morocco tabled a proposal for
autonomy that had been carefully negotiated with the Bush
Administration. The main impetus to getting the plan
produced was then-USUN Permrep John Bolton,s threat (October
2006) to end MINURSO,s mandate. When first released, the
USG called the autonomy proposal &serious and credible.8
In substance, the proposal was serious, including local
police and some independence for the judiciary, and was
accompanied by a declared willingness to negotiate. It was
also viewed as credible by the international community,
including explicitly Russia and implicitly China, which
nearly universally expressed a willingness to accept this as
a possible outcome, if agreed. Credibility was an issue,
however, among Sahrawis on both sides of the berm, as there
was little confidence, given past Moroccan evasions, that
even if agreed, the GOM would implement the plan. This
credibility gap has narrowed, but only slightly, due to the
improvements in the human rights situation. Credibility is,
therefore, key to winning hearts and minds.

16. (C) In April 2007, the United Nations Security Council
lengthened the mandate of MINURSO to 12 months (from six) and
the &Manhasset talks8 (named after the Long Island, New
York town where they were held) began. The Moroccans, while
negotiating with the Polisario, showed them no credence and
sent Moroccan Sahrawis to seek defectors. CORCAS head
Kalihenna questioned the Polisario,s right to be there. The
Polisario broke diplomatic and Middle Eastern protocol by
refusing to shake hands with the Sahrawis on the Moroccan
delegation and walked out or turned away when they spoke.

17. (C) Neither side offered any compromise or considered
the arguments of the other. This was hardened when, at the
end of 2007, King Mohammed VI publicly instructed his
delegation to discuss no solution but autonomy, creating
little room for discussion. This hard-line stance may have
been bolstered by what was perceived in the Palace as
uncritical support from Washington. In the end, there was no
result after four rounds of rotating restatement of static
positions. Former UN Personal Envoy Peter Van Walsum cited
immovable Moroccan commitment to retain sovereignty, and
called the prospect of independence unrealistic. For this
unusual frankness, the UN let Van Walsum go, at Algerian and
Polisario insistence.

18. (C) The new Personal Envoy, Ambassador Christopher Ross,
long one of the stars of U.S. diplomacy in the region, seems
better positioned than anyone to budge President Bouteflika
and his government. In recognition, he was granted the
additional mandate to help improve Moroccan-Algerian
relations. King Mohammed VI took note of this and conveyed
through Ross an offer of unconditional, at-any-level and
on-any-subject, bilateral talks. Ross did get Algeria to
agree to go to the &informals8 but only as observers. He
got no response on the bilateral issue, although it is still
early in Bouteflika,s new term. The informal meeting this
month in Vienna has at least re-launched the negotiations.

--------------------------------------------- --------
Regional Link: Algeria-Morocco Key to Sahara Solution
--------------------------------------------- --------

19. (C) Algeria and Morocco are demographically similar but
with differences in historical experience that go back
hundreds of years. About a year after Algeria,s hard-won
independence, it and Morocco fought &The War of the Sands,8
over their then-disputed frontier, drawn by colonial France.
In 1975, when the Algerians sheltered the Polisario, it was
at least as much a reflection of their historical rivalry as
ideological support for a fellow liberation movement. King
Hassan II managed to work out a frontier agreement with the
Algerians which the GOM maintains has been ratified, and
needs only an exchange of instruments of ratification. The
subsequent closure of the Algeria-Moroccan border is now an
anomaly in a Mediterranean region of growing links. There
have been modestly growing functional links in recent years,
much of it under Arab Maghreb Union auspices and in 2008 some
technical agreements were signed. But direct high-level
communication remains cut and both quiet and public GOM
overtures to reopen it have been rebuffed. The Government of
Algeria (GOA) turned down then-Secretary Rice,s invitation
for a trilateral ministerial meeting on the margins of the
2008 UNGA.


20. (C) Algeria, Morocco and the Western Sahara dispute is a
chicken and egg situation. Algeria has indicated relations
cannot improve until there is self-determination in Western
Sahara. Morocco, following the close links between the
Polisario leadership and their Algerian hosts, remains
convinced that there will be no agreement if relations with
Algiers do not improve. In response, as of June 2009, the
Moroccans have maintained that their principal goal now is
rapprochement with Algeria, which could be discussed

21. (C) The international community is ready to support
Maghreb rapprochement and integration, which can only occur
in parallel with a settlement of the longstanding dispute
over the Western Sahara and resettlement of the
long-suffering refugees. Then-President Putin of Russia
urged Algerian-Moroccan compromise in vain, as have the
French, the Spanish, and the USG. We are not aware of any of
the P-5 opposing an autonomy-based solution, nor have we seen
real urgency or priority for the international community to
resolve a dispute over which there has been no real fighting
for 18 years. End Comment.

Visit Embassy Rabat's Classified Website; cco