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Some say politics behind non-recognition of W. Sahara

Published fredag 15 januari kl 11.26
"There is a contradiction here."
(2:51 min)
Abdeljalil Bounhar / AP
Moroccan workers walk past the construction site of the country's first IKEA store outside Casablanca, Morocco in September. Photo: Abdeljalil Bounhar / AP.

The government has yet to confirm or deny that it will not recognize Western Sahara as an autonomous region, after anonymous sources told Swedish Television an announcement would be made shortly. A non-recognition would mark an about-face for the Social Democrats who had campaigned to recognized the disputed territory during the previous administration.

Jonas Sjöstedt, leader of the Left Party, was disappointed about the rumor. He told Swedish Television's news program Aktuellt that a non-recognition might be motivated by the government's aspiration to gain a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Support in the Arab world is seen as crucial for gaining that seat, and recognizing Western Sahara would gain the ire of Morocco, which has campaigned aggressively against a possible Swedish recognition.

"If we were to sit on the Security Council, we would be the voice of international law, the voice of decolonization," Sjöstedt told Swedish Television. "That voice loses its worth if it is bartered with and we give in to Moroccan occupiers."

Ove Bring, a professor emeritus in international law, told news agency TT that a non-recognition was likely a political calculation.

"They are likely making a political assessment that they can't afford to make this decision," said Bring.

Morocco has controlled about two-thirds of Western Sahara since 1975 and claims the stretch of desert, which has offshore fishing, phosphate reserves and oilfield potential, as its own.

The International Court of Justice has ruled that the Sahrawis have the right to their land, and Morocco has been accused of violating human rights. Around 160,000 Sahrawis live in refugee camps in Algeria.

Last autumn, Morocco tried to put pressure on Swedish politicians over the Western Sahara issue by, among other things, threatening to boycott Swedish companies and by hampering the opening of an Ikea store. The country also refused to cooperate on helping undocumented Moroccan youths who live on the streets in Sweden.

Bring also told the news agency that European Union fishery agreements with Morocco might also be a politically mitigating factor for Sweden. Sweden may also, he said, want to avoid another political dispute as it has conflicts with Israel and Saudi Arabia.

"I don't think Sweden wants to pick a fight with Morocco, which has the support of many African countries," said Bring. "And Sweden is aspiring to a seat on the UN Security Council."

Bring told Radio Sweden that the timing of the rumor, just before a report on the Western Sahara issue is due, and two previous indications from the government mean the rumor is likely true.

"At home it would result in a political cost for the Social Democratic party," he said. "The party congress has said that they should when sitting in government recognize Western Sahara as an independent state. And now they are retreating from that position."

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