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By Peter Kenworthy, Communication and Project Officer
According to news reports yesterday, Deputy Manager and Councillor at Denmark's Embassy to Rabat, Morocco, Michael Bennett Jensen, has praised the development in the occupied territories of Western Sahara. Jensen had met with representatives of the Authenticity and Modernity Party last Monday in Aaiun (Laayoune), after which he said he was “impressed with the level of development witnessed in Laayoune.”
The Authenticity and Modernity Party was founded by former interior minister Fouad Ali El Himma, and childhood friend of King Mohammed VI, in 2008, reportedly in an attempt by King Mohammed VI’s allies to strengthen his power. The party’s Secretary-General, Mohamed Sheikh Biadillah, is a former health minister.
The Authenticity and Modernity Party received more votes than any other party in Morocco’s local elections in 2009 on a ticket of criticizing rights abuses and official corruption, and of trying to convince the people of Western Sahara that they do not need independence because Morocco is changing.
According to Ali Salem Essalek, a pro-Polisario activist, Polisario-supporters had deemed the local elections illegitimate and had therefore boycotted them. “They are talking about change but the reality in Western Sahara is different as repression and rights abuses are widespread,” he said.
Even the Authenticity and Modernity Party conceded that the reasons for their strong campaigning in Western Sahara was an attempt to undermine Polisario’s attempts to secure a referendum on the status of Western Sahara. According to Mohamed Reguibi, a party member, “if PAM's support grows enough here, the Polisario leadership would be forced to reach a compromise with Morocco.”
That the Danish Embassy in Rabat is in contact with a Moroccan political party that campaigns in the occupied territories in Western Sahara to try to undermine the legitimate attempts to bring about a UN-sanctioned referendum on the status of Western Sahara, is clearly against the Danish government’s proclamation of wanting to work for a solution to the Western Saharan conflict through the UN. It also conflicts with Danish Foreign Minister, Lene Espersen’s, statement in a letter to Africa Contact on December 15 2010 that she was “deeply concerned” about the situation in Western Sahara.
Aaiun (Laayoune) lies in an area that is internationally recognised, also by Denmark, as being in an occupied territory. The Danish embassy therefore ought to be a little more careful in issuing positive statements about the alleged development of the area or liaise with a political party that wishes to uphold the status quo in Western Sahara. In particular when it is a well known fact that Morocco uses any positive statements about its occupied territories in its propaganda to have Western Sahara formally included in a greater Morocco. And also given the situation in Tunisia, which could easily spread to its neighbours, and where Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen is presently considering giving financial support to popular movements.
Africa Contact has sent a letter to the Danish Embassy in Rabat, Morocco, asking them to state their reasons for praising the developments in the occupied territories in Western Sahara and meeting with representatives of the Authenticity and Modernity Party.
In an answer to this letter on January 20, Danish Ambassador, Lars Vissing, stated the following: "Mr. Bennett Jensen visited Laâyoune on a mission to gather facts about the situation in Western Sahara. As you know Denmark supports the current informal talks of the parties within the UN framework, and there is no change in Danish policies regarding Western Sahara. The Embassy does not cooperate with political parties in Morocco."