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Saharawi gaffe: govt dispatches high-level envoy to clarify its position

Pascalinah Kabi

THE government says it has dispatched a high-level envoy to Morocco, the Western Sahara as well as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) to “fully explain and clarify” the position of Lesotho in relation to Western Sahara’s struggle for independence from Morocco.

On Wednesday the government was forced to beat a hasty retreat after it was roundly condemned for adopting what it called “constructive neutrality” in the case of Western Sahara’s bid for independence from Morocco.

Lesotho’s neutral stance, which was communicated to Morocco on 4 October 2019, was at odds with the position of the AU and SADC who support Western Sahara’s right to self-determination.

Following strong criticism from local human rights groups, the government on Wednesday backtracked on its support for Morocco, saying it had taken note of the “anxiety and uncertainty occasioned by the irregular publication of a confidential state-to-state diplomatic communication between Lesotho and Morocco”.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations has since communicated to their Moroccan counterparts the government’s strong disapproval of this undiplomatic conduct and expressed to both Morocco and SADR, Lesotho’s continued and unconditional support for Morocco’s total withdrawal from the Saharawi territories it is currently occupying and respect for the self-determination and territorial integrity of the SADR and its people.

“Contrary to some imputations, the government wishes to reiterate that the policy of the Kingdom on the cause of the Saharawi people…has not changed in the slightest,” the government said in its Wednesday statement.

It further reaffirmed its commitment to collective position of SADC and the AU, unequivocally calling for the independence of Western Sahara.

On Friday, government issued a follow-up statement saying it had dispatched a high-level envoy to Morocco, Western Sahara, SADC and the AU to “fully explain and clarify” the position of Lesotho in relation to Western Sahara’s struggle for independence from Morocco.

“Further to the statement issued on Wednesday 9 October 2019, the government of the Kingdom of Lesotho has resolved to dispatch a high-level envoy of the status of leadership of the coalition government, or any fitting person, to the Kingdom of Morocco, the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the SADC and the AU to fully explain and clarify the position of the country in respect of the question of Western Sahara’s independence and Lesotho’s relations with the Kingdom of Morocco and the SADR.

“For avoidance of any doubt, the Kingdom of Lesotho under this government remains fully committed to the positions and resolutions of the SADC, the AU and the UN on the Saharawi-Morocco UN-led peace process,” the government said in a statement on Friday.

Morocco has laid claim to Western Sahara (also known as the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic-SADR) ever since Spain relinquished control of the North African territory in 1957.

Various efforts to resolve the long-running issue have been initiated without success, including a 1991 United Nations-brokered referendum which flopped after Morocco and the Polisario Front (the main political party in Western Sahara) disagreed over who should vote. The Polisario wants complete independence from Morocco.

In March 2019, SADC held a solidary conference in Pretoria in support of Western Sahara’s right to self-determination.

Participants at the conference included leaders of SADC states as well as leaders from other African countries, Latin America, Europe and Asia. Leaders of former liberation movements and civil society organisations also attended.

The 39th SADC summit of heads of state and government in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in August 2019, noted the resolutions of the SADC Solidarity Conference and urged SADC member states, the AU and the UN, to support Western Sahara’s right to self-determination.

But less than two months later, Lesotho, a SADC member state, broke ranks by writing to the Moroccan government to inform it that it had resolved to observe “constructive neutrality” on the Western Sahara issue at sub-regional, regional and international meetings.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations of the Kingdom of Lesotho presents its compliments to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Kingdom of Morocco,” the Foreign Affairs ministry states in its 4 October 2019 letter to their Moroccan counterparts.

“With reference to the Western Sahara conflict, has the honour to state…that the government of Lesotho welcomes the holding of the initial round of dialogue that took place in Geneva on 5 December 2018, between the parties to the conflict under the auspices of the special envoy of the UN Secretary General, Mr Kohler Horst…”

The letter also states that henceforth Lesotho will actively support the ongoing UN-led process to find an amicable solution and the country has decided to suspend all statements and decisions related to the status of Western Sahara pending the outcome of the UN-led process.

“This constructive neutrality will be observed from now in all sub-regional, regional and international meetings.”

This attracted a backlash from human rights organisations, with Lesotho Council of Non-governmental Organisations Director, Seabata Motsamai, describing the government move as a “diplomatic blunder”.

Mr Motsamai told the Sunday Express’ sister Lesotho Times publication that as a small country, Lesotho’s survival depended on the solidarity with the SADC, the AU and the UN. As such the country could not afford to antagonise these international bodies.

On Wednesday the government backtracked on its support for Morocco in the face criticism.

 

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