The Western Sahara Sand Trap

Sand Berm, Western Sahara
Photo: AFP
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The world has changed in many ways in the past 50 years. Global population has doubled, and well over half of the people alive in the world today were born after the United Nations requested, in 1965, that Spain de-colonise the territory of Western Sahara, which it had occupied since the late 19th century. But Spain would not relinquish the last colonial country in Africa so readily, and for the next 7 years the request for Spain to organise a referendum to establish the will of the people with regard to the future of Western Sahara was an annual fixture on the UN agenda.

To break out of this state of political limbo required more than a yearly repetition of the referendum request. The POLISARIO (Frente Para la Liberación de Saguia Al Hamra y Rio de Oro) was established in 1973 to force a change in tempo, by voicing the demands of the Saharawi and confronting the Spanish military. The initial impact seemed promising: the following year the first census was conducted and hopes began to rise that a lasting solution for independence was at hand. Those hopes evaporated as neighbouring Mauritania and Morocco replaced Spain as occupiers in 1976, and began a military pincer movement against the Saharwi. Increasingly, local inhabitants were driven into desert regions or to Algeria as refugees, victims of ambitious geopolitical competition between Morocco, which continues to uphold its territorial claims, and Mauritania, which eventually relinquished and withdrew.

Sand Berm, Western Sahara Photo: AFP

Sand Berm, Western Sahara
Photo: AFP

And that is where we find the Saharwi today. Trapped in the sand behind a gigantic berm 2,700 kilometers long, laced with unknown thousands of landmines, heavily guarded by an estimated 100,000 Moroccan troops, with UN peacekeeping force MINURSO deployed to ensure the 1991 ceasefire agreement is upheld. Despite voting in favour of it, the Kingdom of Morocco has still not acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty and, while both sides have agreed to cooperate with MINURSO to identify and remove mines and other unexploded ordnance, the berm is not included in the agreement. All major settlements, including the capital, are on the side occupied by Morocco, which encourages settlers and enters into trading agreements for Western Saharan resources such as phosphates, oil, fisheries, and even the sand. Goods produced in the occupied territory are regularly discovered being mislabelled “Made in Morocco”. All of these infractions are vigorously denounced by activists, with some notable successes in recent years.

Photo: canariasahora.es

Saharwi Refugees
Photo: canariasahora.es

On the other side of this monstrous wall the Saharwi wait to reclaim their rights, while their resources are plundered. They live on the goodwill of others, humanitarian assistance and charitable donations, while the wealth of their land lines the coffers of Morocco. It is estimated that between 90,000 and 165,000 people are living in the 5 camps they created over thirty years ago, when they fled the fighting. A reliable population census would facilitate the referendum these people were promised, which explains the wide gap between the lower estimate from Morocco and the upper estimate from the Saharwi. They didn’t expect to be living in these camps for so many years, decades even. Some of them have family on the other side of the barrier they have not seen for 30 years. MINURSO tries to arrange reunions, but the list is long and only a few people at a time can be granted this brief respite.

Gdeim Izik camp destroyed by military to crush 2010 protests

Gdeim Izik camp destroyed by military to crush 2010 protests

The record of human rights abuse against the Saharwi is appalling, including aerial bombardment, the use of white phosphorous, arbitrary detention, torture, persecution, and rape.  Although this situation has existed for many years, the UN envoy requested an extension of MINURSO’s mandate after the brutal repression of a mass demonstration and sit-in at Laayoune on 10 November 2010. Some keen-eyed observers have labeled this event as the true beginning of the uprisings that have engulfed the region since then, the so-called “Arab Spring”.  After a two-year delay, Saharwi activists were given sentences ranging between 20 years and life in a military trial, condemned by Amnesty International as “flawed from the outset.” The protests, and the military repression against them, continue. The UN mission is not documenting human rights abuses in Western Sahara, so activists have created their own crowdsource space to gather reports and evidence.

Most fascinating, that  in this desert wilderness against a backdrop of despair, democracy has bloomed. The POLISARIO has a functioning government supported by local committees, and a refreshingly progressive attitude towards equality and discrimination on gender, education, disability, and religion. Communities had no choice but to adapt to develop, improving in stages with each successive generation of these fiercely independent and strong-willed people. As often happens under extreme hardship and oppression, creative pursuits, especially music and community events, play a very important role in Saharwi culture. One of the best-known musical artists, Mariem Hassan, is welcomed around the world. This October, a repeat of the hugely successful FiSahara Film Festival is planned. The project is run by the Spanish Network of Organizations in Solidarity with the Western Sahara (CEAS), a non-profit NGO based in Spain with humanitarian projects in the Saharwi refugee camps. Organisers are currently processing registrations, and making arrangements to house visitors with refugee families from 8 to 13 October in the Tindouf camp. They are looking for volunteers to help with everything from maintaining the website to promoting the event.

Photo: festivalsahara.com

Photo: festivalsahara.com

How much longer can this situation endure? With the increasing availability of the internet facilitating information sharing, and the development of online social and support networks, the story of the Saharwi is beginning to spread despite these long years of ignorance, and Morocco’s determination to suppress information. Those monitoring the situation in Mali also have a wary eye on Western Sahara, and some analysts probe the possible dynamics of relationships between the POLISARIO rebels, the MNLA, and sundry Islamist groups currently occupying large areas of northern Mali, especially as the 3 aid workers kidnapped from the Tindouf camp in October 2011 were in the hands of such groups.  As Saharwi youth become increasingly frustrated with the status quo, some feel the time is right for a change, even breaking the truce, if the UN can’t get its act together and force a referendum in the very near future. This makes them a choice target for recruitment by the rebel gangs who support their antics by trafficking people, drugs, contraband, and weapons across the Sahel region.

Mauritanian refugees in Senegal demand transfer to a 3rd country

19 June 2012 - Mauritanian refugees in Senegal [photo: Ferloo.com]
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19 June 2012 – Mauritanian refugees in Senegal [photo: Ferloo.com]

A group of black Mauritanians who were expelled to Senegal following racial unrest in 1989 said Tuesday they had been on hunger strike for a week to demand relocation to a third country.

About 30 youths, women and elderly people lay on plastic mats or the ground in front of the United Nations refugee agency in Dakar.

“We have been on hunger strike since June 19 to demand a transfer to a third country, in Africa or in Europe, where our problems will be taken care of,” Abdourahmane Sy, a leader of the Coordination of Associations of Mauritanian Refugees in Senegal, told AFP.

“We don’t want to return to Mauritania and live in tents with two goats as aid. In Senegal our housing, food and employment problems are getting worse every day.”

He said some 200 had begun the hunger strike but only 150 remained.

The Mauritanians were among tens of thousands of members of the Peul, Wolof, Soninke and Bambara ethnic groups expelled from their own country to live in refugee camps in northen Senegal in 1989.

Earlier that year conflict had broken out along the border between Mauritania and Senegal over grazing rights.

As the conflict spread to the capitals black Africans were targeted and killed because of their skin colour, rights groups reported.

Both countries agreed to repatriate the other’s citizens to stem the bloodshed, which led to the summary expulsion of thousands of black Mauritanian citizens to Senegal in the process.

ReliefWeb.

Africans protest in #China as man dies in police custody

african-migrants-china
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More than 100 Africans protested on Tuesday outside a police station in China’s southern Guangdong province after an African man died in police custody.

The protest in Guangdong’s capital Guangzhou, which brought traffic to a halt, lasted for two hours on Tuesday, Xinhua reported, citing an official from the Guangzhou Municipal Public Security Bureau.

The dead African man, whose identity has not been confirmed, “suddenly fell unconscious” at a police station on Monday afternoon and “died after medical efforts failed”, according to police sources quoted by Xinhua.

The African man was taken into the police station for questioning on Monday after he had a “physical altercation” with another person, the owner of an electric bicycle who had given the African man a ride as a passenger on Monday afternoon. Both of them disagreed over payment.

The protest comes ahead of a summit between China and Africa that China is expected to host in July, and amid a crackdown by Beijing and Shanghai on “illegal foreigners”. In late May, Beijing launched a 100-day campaign to “clean out” foreigners living or working illegally in the city and has stepped up police checks on expatriates.

The Xinhua report said police have launched an investigation into the death and that “police in Guangzhou have called for foreigners to abide by Chinese law and refrain from disturbing public order”.

via Reuters.

Investors Could Get Rattled

By now most people watching the geopolitical world will know that Chinese investment (and thus immigration) is becoming a huge deal in Africa. But we hadn’t really been considering African immigration to China until today.

Images of the protest posted on Weibo paint a chaotic scene. This photo, posted by @ndgz via @城事风云榜, shows the scale of the protest:

African Migrants China

Weibo

Another photo, posted by @onccnews seems to show migrants fighting with police officers:

African Migrants China

Weibo

China is due to hold a summit for African nations in July, as Reuters notes, but the timing of that summit is beginning to look perilous, as anti-foreigner sentiment within the country grows. Shanghai recently began clamping down on illegal foreigners, while a prominent TV host recently warned on Weibo about the influx of immigrants in the country.

via Business Insider

Nigerian Immigrants Demanding A Consulate

Most of the demonstrators are thought to have come from the city’s various African communities and sources in the city said the dead man was Nigerian.

Guangzhou police said via its microblog account it had opened an investigation into the death of a foreign national on Monday. It said officers in Yuexiu district had been called because of a fight between a foreigner and an electric bicycle driver over a fare dispute.

In a separate post, the police said foreigners had blocked traffic on Guangyuan West Road – where the fight broke out – on Tuesday afternoon but were dispersed by officers.

They appealed to expatriates living in China to “abide by Chinese laws, not harm public interests or disrupt public order” and said police would investigate the death in strict accordance with the law.

One picture posted on Sina’s Weibo microblog showed a man carrying a cardboard placard reading “Give us the dead body” in English and Chinese.

Protests by foreign nationals residing in the country are rare in China. More than 100 demonstrators surrounded a police station in Guangzhou in 2009 after a Nigerian man died during an immigration raid. Reports said he had jumped from a second-floor window as police mounted surprise passport checks.

Nigerians in the city recently called for a consulate to be set up there, saying it would help them deal with immigration issues and tackle harassment.

via Guardian

 

Project “Snooker” : #SouthAfrica’s MTN telecom #Iran bribery scandal

A customer leaves an MTN shop in Johannesburg April 10, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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Note: The United States granted South Africa an exemption from financial sanctions after Iranian imports from Iran fell 43 percent to 286,072 tonnes in April from the previous month

For a South African telecommunications company, it represented a unique chance to seize what its chief executive called “one of the most significant ‘virgin’ mobile opportunities in the world.”

But the location, he added in a memo marked “Strictly Confidential,” was “no normal country.”

The country was Iran. The company, MTN Group, was widely seen as a post-apartheid success story. Now, seven years after MTN and its local partners won a lucrative licence to launch a new Iranian mobile-phone carrier, the deal is swirling in controversy and raising embarrassing questions for South Africa at a time when the Western world is trying to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Turkcell, an Istanbul-based rival, in March filed a federal lawsuit in Washington alleging MTN bribed its way into Iran and stole the licence from under it. It is seeking at least $4.2 billion in damages. An elite South African police unit called the Hawks is investigating. MTN has denied the allegations and called Turkcell’s demands “extortionate.”

MTN has appointed a prominent judge in London to conduct an internal probe of the allegations surrounding what has become one of its most valuable holdings. In 2011, MTN generated $1.3 billion, or 9 percent of its annual revenue, from its Iran venture, the company reported.

The core of the Turkcell case is the sworn testimony of Chris Kilowan, a former MTN executive who guided the company’s bid to win the Iranian licence and has emerged as the key witness. He has turned over to Turkcell’s attorneys some 7,000 pages of internal MTN documents related to “Project Snooker” – MTN’s code name for its effort, named after a billiard game popular in Britain. “We said we are going to snooker Turkcell,” Kilowan testified.

MTN, now Africa’s largest mobile phone carrier, has called Kilowan “a disgruntled former employee” and has termed his allegations “outlandish.”

During three days of sworn testimony in Washington that concluded May 2, Kilowan presented an extraordinary tale of a multinational company so intent on winning a contract, it was willing to help Tehran obtain military hardware, sway South Africa’s votes before the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency and pay bribes, sometimes in the guise of consulting fees. MTN has yet to give evidence in the case, which is continuing and may go on for years.

Kilowan admitted fronting $200,000 of his own cash to reward South Africa’s then ambassador to Tehran, Yusuf Saloojee, for assisting MTN in Iran. Kilowan says it was MTN’s later refusal to pay him back that convinced him to cooperate with Turkcell. Saloojee, now South Africa’s ambassador to Oman, didn’t respond to requests for comment. Other South African officials denied Kilowan’s allegations.

Reuters has reviewed the entire transcript of Kilowan’s deposition, most of which has not been made public, as well as numerous other exclusive documents.

The dramatic testimony comes at a time when the Western world is trying to contain Iran with forceful sanctions intended to deter its nuclear development programme, which Iran maintains is peaceful. After choking off Iran’s banks from the international monetary system, the European Union plans to implement an embargo on Iranian oil and a ban on insuring oil cargoes on July 1.

The sanctions haven’t been leak-proof. Reuters has documented in a recent series of articles how Iranian telecoms – including the MTN joint venture – have managed to obtain embargoed U.S. computer equipment through a network of Chinese, Middle Eastern and Iranian firms. The Turkcell-MTN case offers further evidence that there are always companies willing to do business with a country even when it becomes an international pariah.

That goes for some governments as well. South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, has long maintained close ties with Tehran, which during the 1980s supported the anti-apartheid underground and imposed a trade boycott on the white-ruled government.

In an interview last month with Reuters, Gwede Mantashe, the ANC’s secretary general, said he had “no problem at all” with South Africa “trading anything” with Iran today, including weapons.

“I WILL TALK TO MY PEOPLE”

Kilowan’s story begins in 2004 when MTN sent him to Iran. MTN had seemingly lost out to Turkcell for the licence to launch what would be the country’s second mobile-phone operator. He testified he began meeting with Iranian officials to determine what had gone wrong with MTN’s bid and lay the groundwork for competing for a licence to run a third carrier. At the time, Iran had just one mobile operator, Telecommunication Co. of Iran.

Kilowan said he learned from Ambassador Saloojee, who recently had arrived in Tehran, that MTN shouldn’t give up on pursuing the second licence even though it appeared Turkcell had won. It also soon became clear to Kilowan that if MTN was going to undo Turkcell’s victory, it would have to meet a long and growing list of onerous Iranian demands.

The bidding rules required foreign companies to partner with Iranian entities. Turkcell’s partners had included Sairan, which Kilowan testified was an arms manufacturer owned by Iran’s Ministry of Defence, and Bonyad Mostazafan, a foundation he said reported directly to Iran’s supreme leader.

He portrays Sairan and Mostazafan, which eventually teamed up with MTN, as manipulative and untrustworthy, and later wrote in an internal memo that MTN’s desire for the licence “should not blind us to the clear reality that we are not negotiating with honest partners.” Officials at Sairan and Bonyad Mostazafan could not be reached for comment, and Iranian diplomats in South Africa and New York did not respond to requests for comment.

Kilowan said he and two South African diplomats held an initial meeting around March 2004 with a Sairan official, who complained that South Africa had failed to deliver military radios Iran had purchased a year earlier. “You should push your government that they must sell these things to us,” Kilowan quoted the Sairan official as saying. “I said, ‘Okay, I will. I will talk to my people, and they will talk to the government.'”

MTN had longstanding connections to the South African government through the ANC, Kilowan testified. These ties are well documented: MTN was set up with government help in 1994 as one of the first black-owned companies after the end of apartheid. Many MTN officials, including chairman Cyril Ramaphosa, had been ANC activists during the struggle to end white rule. Ramaphosa has long been seen as a potential president of South Africa.

A spokeswoman for Ramaphosa referred Reuters back to MTN, which in turn referred to his public statements on the matter. Ramaphosa announced in February that MTN had set up a special committee to investigate Turkcell’s claims, saying, “MTN has zero tolerance for corrupt and unethical business practices.”

Kilowan testified that during meetings, the Iranians – people at Sairan and other government officials – repeatedly raised two requirements: their need to acquire military hardware, including drone aircraft, and to win support for Tehran’s nuclear development programme. He said he and his then boss, Irene Charnley, an MTN director, concluded that “if we could somehow develop a strategy around these two issues,” MTN might be able to win the second licence.

According to Kilowan, MTN set out to provide the Iranians access to high-level South African government officials. This included helping to arrange a visit to Iran by South Africa’s then defence minister, Mosiuoa Lekota, to meet his Iranian counterpart.

Lekota visited Iran in August 2004, accompanied by MTN director Charnley and its then chief executive, Phuthuma Nhleko, Kilowan testified. “It was specifically arranged so as to prove to the Iranians that MTN can deliver on the defence matters,” said Kilowan, who noted he was in South Africa at the time.

Nhleko, who left MTN last year, told Reuters in an email: “It is really not for me to comment on the visits abroad of South African government ministers.”

In response to emailed questions, Charnley, who left her executive post at MTN in early 2007, said: “Turkcell’s allegations are entirely without substance. Neither I nor MTN were in a position to influence the policies or decisions of the South African or Iranian governments, and we did not do so.”

“THE FISH”

An Iranian news agency account of Defence Minister Lekota’s two-day visit reported that he told a news conference that Iran had a right to pursue peaceful use of nuclear energy. The Iranian defence minister, Ali Shamkhani, said the two sides had discussed expanding military, economic and political ties, and had signed an agreement to expand bilateral cooperation.

In an interview with Reuters, Lekota said he travelled to Iran “on official business” and was not working on behalf of MTN. “I have never had anything to do with the MTN licence,” he said. Asked the nature of the visit, he replied, “You are subjecting me to a cross-examination of issues that happened some time ago… I don’t have access to those documents now.”

Asked about the documents, Lindiwe Sisulu, until this week South Africa’s defence minister, said her office received none of Lekota’s records when he resigned in 2008. “I’m therefore not able to answer on his behalf what it is that he was doing” in Iran, she said.

According to Kilowan, Ambassador Saloojee later showed him a wish list of arms the Iranians wanted to buy from South Africa. The shopping list included radar systems, armoured personnel carriers, long-range cannons and the Rooivalk attack helicopter – similar to the U.S. Apache. Kilowan testified that Saloojee told him, “They want everything from the earth to the sea, and everything that is in the sea and everything that flies.”

Kilowan said Iranian officials also directly told him they wanted help in acquiring military equipment, including helicopters and drone aircraft. He said he and MTN director Charnley worked to contact South African defence contractors to help deliver to Iran what MTN executives code-named “the fish” – weaponry.

“We were not promising to facilitate the arm sales,” Kilowan testified. “We were promising to get them in front of the right people for these arm sales. And if there are any bottlenecks, we would talk to the minister, for example.”

Charnley said: “The first time I heard the phrase ‘the fish’ in this context was when my attorneys briefed me on the Turkcell allegations in 2012.” She denied she tried to help Iran secure arms from South Africa.

To support Kilowan’s allegations, Turkcell’s lawyers have submitted what they say are internal MTN documents from his computers. The evidence includes an alleged fax from Charnley in November 2004 to the head of Sairan stating she was trying to set up a meeting about the helicopters between Denel, a South African, government-owned defence contractor, and an Iranian helicopter company. The document says it was “signed on her behalf by Nkateko Nyoka,” another MTN executive.

Charnley disputed the fax’s authenticity. “I didn’t send any such fax, am not aware of any such fax having been sent, and I never asked anyone to send such a fax on my behalf,” she said. Nyoka, no longer with MTN, said in an interview he didn’t know anything about the document.

Turkcell’s documents also include an alleged fax to an Iranian official from Donald Ramfolo, then a Denel regional marketing manager, stating, “We at Denel feel honoured to have received your request for cooperation in the helicopter support field.”

In an interview, Ramfolo said Denel had proposed selling Iran “aviation technology,” including fibreglass technology for drones, but MTN wasn’t involved and the South African government nixed the deal. “We were doing our own thing and MTN were doing their own thing and we didn’t mix,” he said. Ramfolo no longer works for Denel. A spokeswoman for Denel did not respond to requests for comment.

Turkcell’s evidence also includes an alleged signed agreement between MTN and its Iranian partners from September 2005 that states: “The cooperation between MTN and Iranian shareholders should be in the line of defensive, security and political cooperation. MTN shall fully support cooperation regarding the aforementioned issues in South Africa.”

Kilowan testified that the Iranians were insistent on that clause and that Nhleko signed the agreement. Kilowan said it meant “that we would continue to provide support to Sairan in particular around defence matters and we would continue to provide political support or get political support from the South African government for the Iranian government.”

Asked to comment, Nhleko said, “Neither the MTN Group nor I were in a position to influence or fetter the decisions and foreign policy of the South African government, and we did not do so.”

“A LOT OF PRESSURE”

In the end, South Africa never delivered any arms. In the case of the attack helicopters, Kilowan testified that Saloojee told him South Africa wouldn’t sell them to Iran because they contained some American technology, which was under sanctions. Kilowan said the failure to deliver the arms resulted in continued friction between MTN and the Iranians. “The non-delivery of the full fish continued to be a discussion long after,” he testified.

MTN was pressed to deliver in other ways. On the nuclear front, Kilowan testified that MTN helped pay for a trip to South Africa around late 2004 by Iran’s then-chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, so he could meet with then-President Thabo Mbeki.

“We paid for the hotels in Cape Town. We paid for the dinners, everything. We bought presents for them. And we made sure that he got to see President Thabo Mbeki,” Kilowan testified. Rowhani could not be reached for comment.

Mukoni Ratshitanga, a spokesman for former President Mbeki, said, “We’re not going to be drawn into commenting on these allegations.”

According to Kilowan, MTN was promised the telecom licence in November 2005. But when he arrived to pick it up, he said an Iranian official told him that it couldn’t be issued until a vote later that week at the IAEA in Vienna. Members were considering whether to refer Iran, which had resumed developing enriched uranium, to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

South Africa abstained. Several days later, MTN received the licence. Kilowan testified that although MTN couldn’t claim credit for the abstention, “we essentially put a lot of pressure” on the government. The South African government has denied MTN played any role.

By the time MTN received the licence to launch the new telecom, called MTN Irancell, it had made a series of concessions to its Iranian partners.

Although MTN owned 49 percent of the joint venture, it agreed to put up 100 percent of the licensing fee and capitalisation costs – 450 million euros in all. By Kilowan’s account, the Iranians essentially tricked MTN into signing a document in Farsi that committed it to paying all its partners’ share. Neither MTN nor its partners have commented on this allegation.

Over the objection of MTN’s chief financial officer at the time, Rob Nisbet, MTN structured its additional contribution as a complex series of loans, Kilowan testified. Nisbet, who has since left MTN, declined to comment.

Kilowan said he also objected to the loan arrangement. In a confidential October 2005 memo to MTN’s CEO that was reviewed by Reuters, Kilowan wrote, “They have no intention whatsoever to repay the money that they want us to advance them.”

He also wrote, “I have now arrived at the conclusion … that the primary reason they have shifted to MTN is because they have concluded that we are desperate enough for this licence that we will give anything.”

MTN’s financial statements show that the loans, originally supposed to be repaid by 2009, were renegotiated and extended. The company recently reported that three of four loans were repaid last year, with the fourth extended until 2014.

Among Kilowan’s most serious allegations is that MTN paid a series of bribes, including to Javid Ghorbanoghli, an Iranian deputy foreign minister who had once served as Iran’s ambassador to South Africa. Kilowan also alleges that payments were made to Ambassador Saloojee and six Iranian government employees he declined to name.

At a meeting at Kilowan’s Tehran house in May 2005, Kilowan testified Charnley told Ghorbanoghli: “Look, we are now entering a very delicate phase. We would really appreciate all your assistance that you can give us. And, of course, when we get the licence we will be very happy to thank you in the appropriate way for your assistance.”

Within months, Kilowan said, the Iranian diplomat began asking him about “compensation.” Kilowan said he and Charnley agreed to wait until after MTN received the licence.

After the licence was issued, Charnley suggested Saloojee also should be paid for assisting MTN, Kilowan testified.

Charnley denied this, stating, “I didn’t bribe anyone, I’m not aware of anyone having been bribed, and I wouldn’t have tolerated any bribery had I been aware of it.”

According to Kilowan, Ghorbanoghli grew agitated in 2006 over not having been paid, saying he needed money to buy a house for his children in South Africa. Kilowan said he and Charnley decided to pay him by awarding a consulting contract to an oil services company in Dubai owned by one of Ghorbanoghli’s friends.

Turkcell’s evidence includes a copy of an agreement signed by Kilowan on behalf of MTN International, a unit of MTN Group, to pay $400,000 to Aristo Oil International Services for “consulting services” related to “MTNI’s entry into the Iranian Mobile Market.”

Ghorbanoghli later confirmed the money had arrived, Kilowan testified. “He wanted more, and I negotiated it down to 400,000,” he said.

Ghorbanoghli couldn’t be reached for comment. Aristo’s managing director, Mousa Hosseinzadeh, whose name and alleged signature appear on the documents, asked Reuters for copies and then didn’t respond to requests for comment.

As for Saloojee, Kilowan testified that the ambassador approached him after learning that Ghorbanoghli had been paid. Saloojee said he needed money to buy a house in Pretoria, Kilowan said.

Kilowan testified that MTN delayed making the payment so he ended up giving Saloojee $200,000 of his own money in April 2007, through the ambassador’s attorneys, with a handshake agreement that Saloojee would repay him when MTN sent the cash.

It never did. Kilowan, who left MTN in late 2007 and is now a Dubai-based businessman, testified that he continued through early 2011 to try to recoup his money from Saloojee and MTN. When the company turned him down, he said, he decided to cooperate with Turkcell.

He testified he does not stand to benefit from the case’s outcome, other than travel expenses and compensation for time spent on his deposition and “loss of business.” He also said he bills Turkcell an hourly rate for reviewing documents in a separate arbitration case, and has received about $21,800 over the past year. As a result of this disclosure, MTN, which is trying to dismiss Turkcell’s lawsuit in the United States, recently called his testimony “paid evidence.”

Meanwhile, MTN Irancell has become Iran’s fastest-growing mobile phone operator. MTN recently reported it had 45 percent of the Iranian market.

By Steve Stecklow and David Dolan for Reuters

#WesternSahara’s Overlooked Arab Spring

MESA Street Art project
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In the wake of the ongoing unrest across the Arab world, voices from the forgotten Western Sahara conflict claim their role in the so-called Arab Spring. DW talked to a Western Sahara independence activist.

Sidi Ahmed Talmidi, Western Sahara independence activist </p><p>

Sidi Ahmed Talmidi

Sidi Ahmed Talmidi was one of the nine-member group responsible for the negotiations with the Moroccan government during the events in Gdeim Izik camp in Western Sahara in October 2010 (Camp established to protest against ongoing discrimination, poverty and human rights abuses, some protesters also demanded independence for Western Sahara. The protests were initially peaceful, but turned violent following clashes between civilians and security forces – the ed.). Seven members of the original group are in prison and have recently started a hunger strike while they await trial. DW spoke to Talmidi, one of those still free, at the Sahrawi refugee camp in Western Algeria.

DW: What is the current situation in Western Sahara under Moroccan control?

Sidi Ahmed Talmidi: Morocco has turned the area into a massive prison. Nobody feels safe, not even inside their houses. People are constantly harassed, dragged out from home in the middle of the night and either taken to prison or even “disappeared.” Their corpses are often found brutally mutilated in the middle of the street. The last case happened four days ago when the body of a man called Hamdi Tarfany was found chopped into pieces in Laayoune, the administrative capital of the region.

It’s been like this since former colonial power Spain pulled out in 1975 and left us in the hands of the Moroccans who invaded our land. Rabat claims that we have the same living standards as in the rest of Morocco, and that we also enjoy a democratic system but that’s far from being true. These violations have been recognized by almost everybody, even the UN recognizes the Polisario Front (Sahrawi rebel national liberation movement – the ed.) as the legitimate representative of the Western Sahara people.

Morocco and the Polisario Front fought a war over the territory for 16 years until a UN-brokered cease-fire took effect in 1991. What have you achieved in those 21 years?

We laid down our weapons because we were promised a referendum. The MINURSO, the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, produced a census but Morocco has managed to block the lists until today. Basically, we have achieved absolutely nothing. Most of our people have turned into refugees in the middle of the Algerian desert – between 200,000 and 275,000 depending on the source – and we are struggling to survive. On the other hand, Rabat has obtained massive benefits in these two decades. They are exploiting our mineral and fishing resources thanks to France’s complicity and the UN inaction. The MINURSO staff are just getting paid by the UN to stay in a comfortable scenario for them. They have no mechanisms to monitor human rights in the area mainly due to the massive hurdle the French UN veto poses.

You were one the members of the negotiation group during the events in Gdeim Izik camp in October 2010. How do you remember those days?

On October 9 we set up a camp around 12 kilometers outside Laayoun because we wanted to conduct a peaceful demonstration and avoid frictions with the Moroccan settlers downtown. There were nine of us in the negotiations group. We wanted to remind the world that we have been a Moroccan colony for over 35 years so people would walk all the way to where we stayed to join us. After a month we were around 30,000 Sahrawis gathering at the camp.

We were asking for our most basic rights and protesting against the Moroccan government and monarchy. We have nothing against the Moroccan people, in fact, many of them are also facing very dire conditions under Rabat’s rule. On November 8, Moroccan police and special forces raided the camp in the most brutal way. There are no words to describe what we all witnessed that day; it’s hard to believe such things can happen in the 21st century. The day before the raid, the government publicly accused eight of us of kidnapping all those gathering at the camp. How could we possibly hold thousands captive?

Morocco claims that 18 policemen died during the event but no Sahrawis whatsoever. The Polisario Front puts the Sahrawi death toll at 38 with hundreds more injured. What’s your stance?

I could give you a lot of names of protesters killed by the Moroccan police. Fourteen-year-old Nagam Gareh was killed inside a car that was carrying supplies for the protesters; Brahimd Daudi and Babi el Gargar were among those killed in the shooting… Nonetheless, it’s impossible to quantify the dead and injured as our people were even denied medical assistance in the hospitals. Besides, I have no clues on the whereabouts of many friends. A lot of people disappeared after the events.

Disinformation on our conflict is endemic so it came as no surprise when the media was denied access to Gdeim Izik. Even Al Jazeera was immediately expelled from Morocco after they started talking about the issue. We could say that the Arab Spring started in Morocco-controlled Western Sahara, and not in Tunisia. If we had achieved just a tiny percentage of the attention Tunisia or Egypt would get two months later, the political scenario might be significantly different today.

How can this conflict be unblocked?

The only hope for the Sahrawis is to get the UN to recognize that Morocco does not want to take any further step toward the peace plan. Time is on Morocco’s side so international pressure is mandatory to force Rabat to sit down and negotiate. However, Morocco’s refusal would mean to go back to war. Today I think that the only solution for Western Sahara is full independence, and not any sort of autonomy as Rabat has suggested. The latter would mean to continue under their occupation, hence being treated like animals. The majority of our people live like refugees in the middle of the desert because they cannot go back home. We are exhausted and we cannot cope with this situation any longer.

via ‘DW.DE | 18.06.2012.

MESA Street Art project

Interview: Karlos Zurutuza, Rabuni refugee camp, western Algeria. Editor: Rob Mudge