The Dec. 7 commentary, “Our friends in the desert” by David Keene, distorts the history and current realities of the Western Sahara conflict.
It is also important to know that, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, Mr. Keene and his consulting firm received tens of thousands of dollars in lobbying fees from Algeria, the Polisario Front’s ideological and financial supporter — a fact Mr. Keene fails to disclose.
As well, Mr. Keene egregiously mischaracterizes the position of the U.S. government in the Western Sahara conflict. The Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, and bipartisan majorities of the U.S. House and Senate, support a resolution of the conflict based on autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.
Furthermore, the author’s description of life in the Polisario-run refugee camps in Algeria is the writer’s fantasy. In the tightly controlled camps — where the refugees are denied the most basic freedoms — there is only one permitted political party, the Polisario Front. Its appointed “president” for more than three decades hails from a dubious class of Cold War leaders including their continuing ally, Fidel Castro.
Mr. Keene’s distortions dishonor the lives of the 11 Moroccan police officers savagely killed by violent, pro-Polisario militants who infiltrated what began as a peaceful social protest over economic issues near Laayoune. These police officers were armed only with non-lethal weapons — no “guns blazing,” another of Mr. Keene’s allegations that have been repeatedly denounced by the international human rights community.
Columnist merely parrots propaganda of Polisario
From Hassan El Farissi, American Council for Moroccan POWs
It is incredible that a respectable publication such as The Hill would let Mr. David Keene spread so many falsehoods about a conflict he seems to know near nothing about except for Polisario propaganda (“Our friends in the desert” Dec. 7).
The article sweeps under the rug the Moroccan efforts to regain their Spain-colonized territory since the 1950s and the Madrid tripartite accord of 1975. As soon as Morocco won parts of its independence from France, it started its efforts to gain back the other territories from Spain and for the international zone in Tangiers.
Mr. Keene advances the figure of several hundred thousand people who still live in “U.N.-administered refugee camps.” Nobody in the U.N. or any of its agencies knows how many people live in the camps, let alone administer those same camps where more than 2,000 Moroccan POWs were held against Geneva conventions and where they were tortured and where some of them were murdered in cold blood.
Mr. Keene seems to be enamored of the “constitution” that Polisario has given to its people and that gave equal rights to Sahrawi women. Yes, the right to have their young children yanked away from them and sent to Cuba for “education.”
Mr. Keene writes about the victims of the recent Layoune camp riots without any proof of those claims. Human Rights Watch said the Moroccan authorities’ figures of casualties of mostly security and paramedics are more realistic and reliable than the highly inflated claims made by Algerian-controlled Polisario propagandists which Mr. Keene is blindly parroting in his article.
Redondo Beach, Calif.
David Keene replies
Critics of my recent column on the Western Sahara’s ongoing dispute with Morocco are apparently convinced that I am somehow being paid to propagandize on behalf of the Western Saharans by Algeria and cite as evidence of this that the Carmen Group represented Algeria some years ago.
To set the record straight: I have never been paid to represent, advise or lobby on behalf of the Western Sahara or the Polisario, which is the political arm of the Western Saharans.
The Carmen Group, of which I was a managing associate at the time, did represent and advise the Embassy of Algeria on numerous issues, and I worked on the account at the time. During that period, neither the Carmen Group nor I advocated on behalf of the Western Sahara and were asked specifically not to by the Algerian ambassador.
The Carmen Group no longer represents Algeria, and while I continue to have an “Of Counsel” relationship with the firm, I am no longer active as a full-time employee or lobbyist on behalf of Carmen’s clients.
The Algerians and the Moroccans obviously differ on the merits of the Western Saharan’s claim to the lands occupied by the Moroccan army in the ’70s. The World Court and the United Nations agree with Algeria and the Western Saharan position on this question.
The Western Saharan refugee camps to which I refer in my column are within Algeria’s borders and are under U.N. administration.
Critics of my position are welcome to differ with me as I knew they would when I wrote my column, but I must say that I am offended by the contention that anyone who disagrees with them must of necessity be in someone’s pay.
David Keene is a columnist for The Hill whose columns appear Tuesday.