- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Releasing the ‘oldest POWs’

I was glad to see your report on Moroccan POWs held illegally by the Polisario Front in Algeria (“Moroccan works to free ‘oldest POWs,’ ” World, Aug. 17). As a member of Amnesty International, I have worked on a campaign to help free these prisoners. In September 2003, I witnessed the Polisario’s release of 245 POWs, and I have looked forward to the day when the Polisario would be brave enough to do the right thing and free the remainder.

I am happy to hear that the Polisario has decided finally to release the last POWs. I hope the Moroccan government will likewise come clean about the fate of the 150 Polisario fighters it captured and the 526 Sahrawi civilians it “disappeared” during the war.

However, I was disappointed to see several errors of fact in the article and numerous partisan claims left unchecked. (I also am the co-author of an upcoming book on Western Sahara.)

First, the Polisario is an independence movement, not a “separatist” movement. No country in the world recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, although some 70 countries, including South Africa, as well as the African Union, recognize it as an independent — albeit occupied — nation. Furthermore, the Polisario was founded in 1973, not 1976, two years before Morocco took the Sahara from Spain and two years before Algeria took an interest in supporting Western Saharan independence.



Morocco’s historical relationship with the territory relates to a few tribes inhabiting the border region between Morocco and Western Sahara. The International Court of Justice characterized some of the evidence for Morocco’s claim as “far-flung, spasmodic and often transitory.”

Several leaders of the Polisario were indeed born in Morocco, but that is because they were refugees. Thousands of Sahrawis fled to southern Morocco in the late 1950s because of a brutal colonial campaign to suppress Saharan resistance. Frequent droughts also added to refugee flight in those times.

The Sahrawis are not a tribe; rather, the Sahrawis are composed of several tribes, some of which extend into Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania. The word Sahrawi simply means “Saharan” in Arabic (i.e., Western Saharan).

The Sahrawi refugee camps are only “deplorable” in that the international community largely ignores them. I have visited several of the camps and had unfettered access to the refugees who have lived there since 1976. Despite the harsh conditions, they live with an astonishing level of dignity.

The article gets the chronology backward regarding Morocco’s acquisition of the territory.Morocco’smilitary invaded the Spanish or Western Sahara on Oct. 31, 1975, 15 days before Spain signed an agreement to eventually hand the territory over to Rabat. Spain only gave up the territory because it wanted to avoid a colonial war with Morocco; before that, Madrid had promised independence to the Sahrawis.

The reports of Red Cross representatives, who regularly visited the Moroccan prisoners, present a more objective description of the conditions of their detention. I personally deplore the fact that the Moroccan POWs were subject to forced labor and held in conditions amounting to prolonged torture. Yet contrary to what the article says, many of the claims of torture made by former Moroccan POWs have never been investigated by an objective nongovernmental international organization. One of the reasons for this is that the Moroccan government places severe limits on access to the former prisoners; another is that the Red Cross and the United Nations have had regular access.

The report of “France Liberte” — i.e., France Libertes — cited in the article was largely repudiated. For example, Moroccan POWs claimed they were forced to build a hospital for Oxfam in the refugee camps, yet Oxfam denied such a project ever happened.

Finally, while the Polisario has been unfortunately slow in releasing the POWs, the Moroccan government, until recently, denied that the POWs existed and would not accept a return of the most sick and elderly in the 1990s. Morocco still denies that it “disappeared” hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Sahrawis in the late 1970s and 1990s. It continues to repress nonviolent resistance to the occupation of the Western Sahara. It is Morocco’s turn to come clean and abide by its obligations under international law.

JACOB MUNDY

Puyallup, Wash.

Sowing democracy

After reading Ken Cuccinelli’s Op-Ed (“Railroading Dulles,” Op-Ed, Friday), I think some facts pertaining to rail transit should be considered.

I estimate that one large passenger train could replace about 500 vehicles on the road: one train with 15 cars, with about 75 persons per train car, totals 1,125 persons per train, which, at two persons per car, translates to about 500 vehicles.

Trains operate in ice, snow and rain, and trains are not tied up in traffic jams, nor do they have to stop at intersections and traffic lights. Buses also stop for passengers, delaying vehicle traffic. Toll highways are good, but where do you go when leaving them? Perhaps onto congested roads?

Mr. Cuccunelli cites the increase in property values for properties adjacent to rail lines; of course, this is obvious — people use trains. Train stations also centralize and focus surrounding communities, reducing sprawl.

The current Metro system is not perfect, but where would we be without it? More toll roads, with hundreds of buses stopping at all traffic lights and clogging up the roads would be the result.

Finally, the Dulles rail project certainly would reduce air pollution, something high-occupancy toll lanes and buses would not do.

JAMES E. DAVENPORT

McLean

I could not disagree more with Georgie Anne Geyer’s analysis of U.S. “purist democracy illusionists” (“Deflated expectations,” Commentary, Sunday). I grew up in Nazi- occupied Holland, and when the Allied forces came to liberate Europe, nobody thought Germany or Japan could ever be democratic or that we would have a European Union with 25 states and a depleted Russian empire with the first makings of a democracy. Sure there was a hard-earned base for democracy in Western Europe, but in Japan there was none. Except Turkey, the “wider” Middle East is no exception to this and has been so for thousands of years.

Democracy is still the best of bad political systems, as Winston Churchill once said, and this is no different for Iraq. Clearly, Afghanistan had to be freed from oppression and so did Iraq: Both countries had become wasp nests of terrorism in the 1990s. Different shapes and forms perhaps, but with one goal: Destroy the West and leave the Middle East to us. Only the United States could deal with this, and it did.

Except for Britain, Europeans forgot their own defeats once more. Shortly after World War II, there were articles and books critical of pushing democracy in Germany and Japan. Miss Geyer refers to today’s similar books on the “squandered victory in Iraq” only two years after the country’s liberation from tyranny. Such defeatist statements just show a lack of confidence in the enormous appeal of democracy to many people in the Middle East. What about the young Iranians? What about the courageous Iraqi women?

The Bush and Tony Blair administrations did well removing tyranny from Iraq. Yes, the sore is still bleeding, but the seed for democracy and evolution of a very intelligent people has been planted. It won’t be easy, but with ups and downs, 10 years from now, the Middle East will be beginning to look like a different place. Turkey does already.

Islamists may win some elections, but they also may be defeated. This is a lot better than letting terrorists roam free, even in the United States, for fear of internal political backlash, as was the case under the visionless Clinton administration.

JOHN SCHWARTZ

Alexandria

Metro to Dulles makes sense

After reading Ken Cuccinelli’s Op-Ed (“Railroading Dulles,” Op-Ed, Friday), I think some facts pertaining to rail transit should be considered.

I estimate that one large passenger train could replace about 500 vehicles on the road: one train with 15 cars, with about 75 persons per train car, totals 1,125 persons per train, which, at two persons per car, translates to about 500 vehicles.

Trains operate in ice, snow and rain, and trains are not tied up in traffic jams, nor do they have to stop at intersections and traffic lights. Buses also stop for passengers, delaying vehicle traffic. Toll highways are good, but where do you go when leaving them? Perhaps onto congested roads?

Mr. Cuccunelli cites the increase in property values for properties adjacent to rail lines; of course, this is obvious — people use trains. Train stations also centralize and focus surrounding communities, reducing sprawl.

The current Metro system is not perfect, but where would we be without it? More toll roads, with hundreds of buses stopping at all traffic lights and clogging up the roads would be the result.

Finally, the Dulles rail project certainly would reduce air pollution, something high-occupancy toll lanes and buses would not do.

JAMES E. DAVENPORT

McLean

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