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Morocco / Western Sahara: ICRC visits prisoners held by Polisario Front

10-06-1999 News Release 99/23

Between 18 May and 1 June an ICRC team consisting of a doctor and a dental prosthetist carried out a visit in the southern part of the Western Sahara to 310 of the 1,877 Moroccan prisoners being held by the Polisario Front. Their aim was to visit these prisoners again so as to evaluate detention conditions and complete the medical assessment begun during the March 1999 visit to the camps in the Tindouf region, which was undertaken to ascertain the needs of the prisoners and the local possibilities for their treatment. Medical resources are even more limited in the southern camps than in the camps of the Tindouf region. The doctor drew up a list of prisoners to be transferred to the Tindouf camps for eye surgery during the next ICRC visit. Meanwhile, the dental prosthetist evaluated prisoners'requirements and went to the Tindouf region to begin setting up a prosthetics laboratory in one of the camps there.

The doctor paid particular attention to the cases of 83 of the 85 prisoners freed in April 1997 who are still waiting to be repatriated to Morocco (two have died since being freed). 

During the visit, the delegates noted that the prisoners were pinning their hopes on the new timetable for the UN settlement plan, which provides for their repatriation at the beginning of the year 2,000. To date, these hopes have been regularly dashed by delays in the plan, which was drawn up at the time of the ceasefire in 1991. Any further postponement of the UN timetable would have a disastrous effect on the already weakened morale and health of the prisoners. The majority of these prisoners have been inte rned for more than 20 years and many of them would find it difficult to bear the prospect of their captivity being prolonged for a further, indefinite period.

All the prisoners visited and those freed were able to send Red Cross messages and photos to their families. The ICRC provided aid in the form of insulin, medicines and medical equipment. Dental equipment was also dispatched for both Western Saharan refugees and the Moroccan prisoners. 

The ICRC remains ready to repatriate the prisoners as quickly as possible and wishes to see a solution to all the humanitarian problems associated with the Western Saharan conflict.