26 June 2007

South Africa: Moroccan Envoy Scathing On Zuma's Sahara Remarks, But Gets No Apology

Johannesburg — MOROCCO's ambassador to SA, Habib Defouad, yesterday launched a scathing attack on African National Congress deputy president Jacob Zuma and Zahid Asmal of radio station Channel Islam for their apparent support for Western Sahara, the northern African territory seeking independence from Morocco.

At a function held in solidarity with the Palestinians at the weekend, Asmal read a message from Zuma, which said: "The struggle for liberation in SA, and indeed southern Africa, had been closely linked with the liberation struggle of the Palestinian people, as much as with the people of East Timor and of Western Sahara."

The message caused a stir among Moroccan officials present, who took exception and demanded an apology from organisers for the way their country had been "singled out" on the issue of Western Sahara.

Defouad accused both Channel Islam and Asmal of acting in a "superficial way, inconsistent with the position held by a billion Muslims worldwide, who openly recognise the 'Moroccanness' of Western Sahara".

"Even Ahmed Ben Ali, the vice-secretary-general of the Arab League, recognised, during the solidarity week with Palestine, that the only nonindependent Arab country was Palestine, and not Western Sahara.

"By conveying such a message -- that the struggle for liberation in South and southern Africa was no different to that of Saharawis against Moroccan rule -- Channel Islam is betraying what the Muslim community, locally and abroad, is believing," Defouad said.

"There is no Arab ambassador in SA, except from the Algerian ambassador, whose country has always supported the Polisario Front (the Saharawi liberation movement), who can take sides with Zuma on the issue of Western Sahara," he said.

For Defouad, the fact that talks held early last week in New York by Rabat and the Polisario Front on the settlement of the touchy issue were reopened on the basis of United Nations Security Council resolution 1754 was further proof that Morocco's stance was not devoid of a solid basis.

The resolution calls for the Moroccan proposal -- which offers a five-year autonomy to the people of Western Sahara, to be followed by a referendum on self-determination -- to form the basis of negotiations.

The Moroccan proposal had also been hailed by France and the US as a basis for a "mutually acceptable settlement" of the issue.

"Our position is respectful of internationally admitted legal standards," Defouad said.

Meanwhile, Asmal said that Moroccan diplomats should understand that he "could only have read Zuma's message" during the weekend meeting.

"This was somebody's message, which I could not edit," Asmal said.

"If they seek an apology, then I am not the one who should make it. They should make contact with Comrade Zuma."

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