Sahara: Ghalla Bahiya Underlines Growing International Support for Autonomy Plan

The vice-president of the Dakhla-Oued Eddahab region Ghalla Bahiya underlined, on Tuesday before the members of the UN Committee of 24 (C24), the momentum of growing international support for the autonomy plan presented by Morocco with a view to definitively closing the regional dispute over the Sahara. “Since 2007, under the leadership of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, may God assist Him, Morocco has been actively and constructively engaged in resolving the regional dispute over the Moroccan Sahara through the autonomy initiative”, she said at the C24 annual meeting in New York, noting that this plan operates within the framework of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of the Kingdom of Morocco. She noted that this autonomy plan enjoys growing support from the international community, including 19 UN Security Council resolutions, adding that more than 100 member states support the Moroccan initiative, at a time when some 28 consulates general have been inaugurated in the cities of Laayoune and Dakhla. She also said that, under the leadership of His Majesty the King, the Moroccan Sahara region has for many years enjoyed a remarkable development dynamic, noting that this all-round progress has enshrined the peace, freedom and prosperity enjoyed by the local populations. “When the Moroccan Sahara was recovered in 1975, it was Morocco’s least developed region, with human development indicators as low as 6%,” she recalled, adding that since then, the Kingdom has been fully committed to the region’s development. Today, the southern provinces boast the highest indicators of any region in Morocco, exceeding expectations and establishing themselves as a central pole of socio-economic growth in Africa, she said. Referring to the legislative, regional and local elections held in Morocco, including in its Sahara region in 2021, Bahiya noted that these elections demonstrated the Kingdom’s dedication and commitment to democracy, the rule of law and human rights. In this context, the elected representative of the Moroccan Sahara pointed out that the Dakhla-Oued Eddahab region alone recorded an “impressive” turnout of 58.30%, one of the highest in the Kingdom. This “remarkable” turnout reflects the peace and stability enjoyed by local populations in Morocco’s southern provinces, and belies the false and slanderous allegations made by the “polisario” that the separatist armed militia is the “legitimate representative” of the populations. Turning to the development strategy in the Dakhla-Oued Eddahab region, Bahiya said that this part of Morocco serves as a model of solidarity and a driving force for local, regional and continental development, adding that this reform dynamic, which has been hailed in various reports by the UN Secretary-General, has played a crucial role in the implementation of the UN Agenda 2030. With this in mind, the speaker referred to the New Development Model for the Southern Provinces launched by HM the King in 2015, which is indicative of Morocco’s unwavering commitment to the socio-economic development of its Sahara. With a budget of eight billion dollars, this ambitious initiative aims to raise the region’s socio-economic and structuring projects to world standards, she said, pointing out that this large-scale project encompasses important sectors such as infrastructure, renewable energies and tourism. Thanks to this model, economic and social development indicators are now impressive, with growth rates reaching 10.5%, nominal GDP per capita 41% higher than the national average and a poverty rate of just 2.6%, said the vice-president of the Dakhla-Oued Eddahab region, adding that the region also benefits from high pre-school enrolment rates, medical density and substantial growth in the tourism sector, with 51,920 passengers welcomed at Dakhla airport in the first quarter of 2023. “These indicators testify to our unwavering dedication and effective involvement in the socio-economic development of the region, alongside our active engagement in the political path,” she insisted, stressing that these facts and data contradict the lies of the Tindouf camps’ host country, Algeria, and the “polisario”, who continue to falsely claim that the Moroccan Sahara is under so-called “military occupation”. She also noted that Dakhla’s “international visibility” had been significantly enhanced, recalling that the city had hosted international investment forums with Spain and the United States, signed twinning agreements with Italian and American cities and inaugurated the Moroccan-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce. The city of Dakhla has also hosted several sessions of joint commissions, notably with the Union of Comoros and recently with the Republic of Sierra Leone in April 2023, said Bahiya, adding that these commissions help strengthen cooperation and promote sustainable development in various sectors on the African continent. She also cited the inauguration of four new consulates general at a time when Somalia and Chad have also decided to establish their respective representations in the Moroccan city. Turning to the situation of the populations sequestered in the Tindouf camps, she denounced conditions characterized by human rights violations, chronic malnutrition and restrictions on freedom of movement. These populations are deprived of their fundamental right to protest against the constant repression and marginalization imposed by the host country of the Tindouf camps and the armed separatist group, the “polisario”, as attested by numerous official reports from the UN Human Rights Commission, she said. She also denounced the repeated detour of humanitarian aid by the host country and the “polisario” to finance their illegal and criminal activities and to acquire military equipment instead of providing assistance to those most in need and putting an end to chronic malnutrition. These practices have been corroborated by several reports, including those of the World Food Programme (WFP) and the European Anti-Fraud Office in 2015, she added, while speaking out against the conditions of children who are subjected from an early age to incitement to hatred and militarization. She warned that these conditions foster instability and terrorism in the Maghreb region and the Sahel, calling on the international community to act urgently to protect these children from the harm inflicted on them by the host country and its puppet the “polisario”. “The international community must demand answers from the host country regarding its refusal to implement Security Council resolutions, including the registration and census of the sequestered population held captive in the Tindouf camps”, she insisted, urging Algeria and the separatist militia to cease these human rights violations, respect international law and adhere to the resolutions of the Security Council, the only UN body responsible for international peace and security.