Obama administration steps into Western Sahara minefield - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the... - 0 views
Thrust into the debate, the State Department has opted to thread the needle by focusing its efforts on democracy-building. In a letter explaining its approach to the congressional mandate, Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield made clear that the $1 million grant “does not reflect a change” in the Obama administration’s policy of supporting a “peaceful, sustainable and mutually agreed solution to the conflict.”
"This program will address the legitimate needs of the people of the Western Sahara,” Frifield wrote in a Dec. 23 letter to Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., the co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and the top Sahrawi advocate in Congress. “It will seek to strengthen civil society organizations and local representative bodies to bolster the ability of citizens to play an active role in making decisions that affect their lives.”
Mouloud Said, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic’s US envoy, said Moroccan lobbyists have been trying to legitimize Rabat’s administration of the region ever since the 2004 trade deal with the United States excluded the Western Sahara. With the new program, he said, they’re one step closer to that goal.
“This sort of program is very welcome once we find a solution to the conflict. But this is not the right moment,” Said told Al-Monitor in a phone interview. “It’s not a good idea because the real Sahrawi civil society is not going to be a part of it. They understand that this is a game by Moroccans to try to legitimize their occupation by getting the US involved through what appears to be an innocent and genuine program — which is everything but genuine or innocent.”
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While it could help strengthen Western Sahara groups, he said there’s also a risk that it could end up legitimizing unrepresentative, pro-government organizations on the ground.