Bowing to International Pressure, Polisario Reportedly Decides to Free Its Police Chief Imprisoned for Speaking Out to End Sahara Conflict

Oct 06, 2010, 15:55 ET from Moroccan American Center for Policy

Key questions remain: Will he be free to rejoin his family in the camps? Will he be allowed to continue efforts with Sahrawis in the camps to promote peace?

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The international community cautiously welcomed, and also raised questions about, today's announcement by the Polisario Front that it has "decided" to release its imprisoned Chief Police Inspector, Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud. He was arrested Sept. 21 in Algeria on charges of "treason" and "espionage" when he tried to rejoin his family in the Tindouf refugee camps and speak out in favor of Morocco's compromise autonomy plan to end the decades-long Western Sahara conflict.

According to the announcement, made on Sahara Press Service, the decision to release the outspoken police chief came "in response to the request of international organizations of human rights."  However, details on the "implementation of this decision," including a timetable and conditions of the release, remain unclear.

"We welcome this announcement of Mustapha Salma's release," said Robert Holley, Executive Director of the Moroccan American Center for Policy. "But the Polisario statement also raises some very important questions. To whom is he being released? Will he be allowed to return to his family in the camps and speak his mind freely about ending the Sahara conflict?  Or is he being exiled from Algeria and the Polisario-run camps where thousands of Sahrawis are still confined?  Are the alleged "espionage" charges against him still pending?"  

This week, Mustapha Salma's father and brother are in New York City making personal appeals to the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and international human rights groups, urging them to ensure that he is given his freedom and that his family is protected and allowed to decide their future. The father and brother currently live in Smara, southern Morocco, where Mustapha Salma was kidnapped as a young boy by Polisario raiders who killed four other family members.

Human rights advocates criticized the arrest—including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Leadership Council for Human Rights, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and Members of the US Senate and House of Representatives.

Mustapha Salma had travelled to Morocco to visit his family for the first time in 31 years as part of the UNHCR family visit program. After seeing the progress made in the region, he decided to return to the camps and speak in favor of Moroccan autonomy to end the 35-year Sahara conflict.

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SOURCE Moroccan American Center for Policy