Lesotho clarifies Western Sahara position

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Foreign affairs and international relations minister, ‘Matśepo Ramakoae
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By Neo Kolane

The government of Lesotho will shortly dispatch a special envoy to Western Sahara, the SADC chair and African Union (AU) chair to dispel the misrepresentation and distortion regarding Lesotho’s position on Western Sahara and to reiterate Lesotho’s on Western Sahara.

Foreign affairs and international relations minister, ‘Matśepo Ramakoae on Tuesday said the government of Lesotho underscores the need for creating favourable conditions for the people of Western Sahara.

“The government therefore pronounces Lesotho’s support of peaceful negotiations aimed at holding the referendum between Western Sahara and Morocco on and equal footing and without preconditions.

On October 4 2019, Ramakoae’s predecessor Lesego Makgothi reportedly wrote to Morocco signaling change of position by Lesotho’s government on the issue of Western Sahara.

“Indeed, this move was widely construed as withdrawal of the support to the Polisario Front by the Lesotho government as well as turning a blind eye to the continued suffering of the Sahrawi Arab people whose land has been under occupation by foreign power by decades now.

Ramakoae also said that the move attracted a lot of criticism from international community including SADC and ordinary Basotho.

Additionally, Ramakoae mentioned that on December 11 2019 fresh allegations were made by the media that Lesotho had sent a special envoy to Morocco to reiterate the alleged decision to withdraw support to the Western Sahara and maintain the so-called neutrality stance on the issue.

“This statement therefore puts into proper perspective the long cherished principles position of Lesotho on Western Sahara.

Moreover, Ramakoae said Lesotho and Western Sahara maintain a cordial bilateral relations and successive governments of Lesotho have maintained their support to Western Sahara.

“These relations have been maintained throughout the years and continue to grow from strength to strength.

Lesotho’s foreign policy is premised join the principle by the founder of the Basotho Nation, King Moshoeshoe I, namely, “khotso Ke khaitseli ea ka” literally translates to mean, “Peace is my sister”.

It is underpinned by the principle of sovereign equality of all states, peaceful settlement of disputes, Non-use of threats or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, and the right to self-determination.

“With respect to the right to self-determination, the Kingdom of Lesotho calls for the legitimate right to self-determination of those countries and nations that still do not enjoy self-determination in accordance with the United Nations principles and resolutions. With regard to the October 2019 diplomatic note, there was no Cabinet decision to change Lesotho’s foreign policy or position on Western Sahara. As a matter of fact, the issue was never submitted for consideration by Cabinet.

“Therefore, any pronouncements made purporting to change Lesotho’s position on this issue are of no force and effect. Indeed, Lesotho exists as a country today because of solidarity with others and her independence and sovereignty shall, to a large extend, continue to depend on solidarity with other states.

“Lastly, the government of the Kingdom of Lesotho will continue to maintain her principled position on Western Sahara, and reiterates her support to the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as an independent African country, co-existing side by side with the Kingdom of Morocco in peace and security.”

Western Sahara is a disputed territory on the northwest coast and in the Maghreb region of North and West Africa, partially controlled by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and partially occupied by neighbouring Morocco. The United Nations considers the Polisario Front to be the legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people and maintains that the Sahrawis have a right to self-determination.

Morocco has been accused of trying to diminish international support for the Sahrawis. Western Sahara and the Polisario enjoy the backing of numerous human rights groups around the globe. Rabat hopes it can push those who oppose to reconsider their options in favour of Western Sahara becoming an autonomous region, and weakening the possibility of changes being made to its Autonomy Plan.

Morocco was only reintegrated into the African Union (AU) in January 2017 after leaving the body’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, in 1984 after the SADR was admitted as a member. In 1987, it had its bid to join the European union rejected.

Since its return, Rabat has managed to garner support from 28 member states to push (unsuccessfully, so far) for the SADR’s expulsion.

This reintegration has happened despite the fact that Morocco’s sovereignty claim over Western Sahara is contrary to the AU’s protocols, which support the principle of territorial integrity. The AU struggles to implement its own directives, and Morocco is taking advantage of this.

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