A bitter debate over the proclamation of an Arab Saharan Republic by the Polisario guerrilla movement has threatened to split the 17-year-old Organisation of African Unity.
SV Organisation of African Unity conference in Freetown, Sierra Leone; PAN TO crowds gathered outside
SV Sign on fence saying "Long Live African Unity"
SV INTERIOR Delegates seated at tables inside conference centre
SV President Samora Machel of Mozambique speaking in Portuguese
SV Conference hall
SV Mr. Maati Bouabid, Moroccan Prime Minister, speaking in French
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Background: A bitter debate over the proclamation of an Arab Saharan Republic by the Polisario guerrilla movement has threatened to split the 17-year-old Organisation of African Unity.
SYNOPSIS: The debate on the Saharan issue took place as the summit meeting of the Organisation of African Unity entered its final stages in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The Polisario guerrillas had applied to the OAU for membership but Morocco vehemently opposed the idea.
During the debate, Mozambique President Samora Machel accused Morocco of trying to colonise the area and of conducting a war of extermination in the Western Sahara. He called on the 50-nation Organisation too consider action against Morocco. So far, 24 of the Organisation's members recognise the self-proclaimed Arab Saharan Republic and 19 of these are formally backing its application for membership. Under the OAU Charter, any independent sovereign African state may at any time notify the administrative Secretary-General of its intention to adhere or accede to the Charter. Admission will then be decided by a simple majority of member states unless the issue is raised at summit level. In that case, a two-thirds majority is needed.
Moroccan Prime Minster Maati Bouabid told the debate that Morocco was waging a struggle of national liberation with the support of an entire people. He accused Mozambique of having shameful relations with South Africa in the cultural, economic and technical fields. The Western Sahara conflict is mainly between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario guerrillas. The region was ceded to Morocco and Mauritania by Spain in 1976. The guerrillas started their independence campaign against Morocco soon after Mauritania dropped out of the conflict last year.
Defending his country's position on the issue the Moroccan Prime Minister called the Arab Saharan Republic a puppet state. He said the solution to the Sahara problem lay in the proposal made last year by King Hassan for a summit meeting of all the bordering countries. The OAU averted a threatened split in its ranks by postponing a decision on the issue and appointing a Committee to look into the whole Saharan question.