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Morocco/Western Sahara: ICRC once again visits Moroccan prisoners of Polisario Front

31-05-2001 News Release 01/21

Moroccan prisoners held by the Polisario Front were visited by four ICRC delegates, including a medical doctor, a dentist and an ophthalmologist, from 11 to 25 May 2001. The delegates saw 796 of the 1,479 prisoners and assessed their general living conditions and their health.

During the visits, which took place in six detention centres in the Tindouf region of Algeria and in areas of the Western Sahara under Polisario Front control, the delegates gave the prisoners an opportunity to send Red Cross messages to their families. The delegates also furnished 470 kg of medical supplies for the prisoners.

Ten prisoners were given dentures and six others suffering from trichiasis or cataracts underwent operations. A total of 120 pairs of prescription glasses were also given to prisoners.

The ICRC is extremely concerned about the very long period during which these men have been detained, most for over 20 years. In view of their age, their state of health and the duration of their captivity, as well as the provisions of international humanitarian law, the ICRC has long maintained that the prisoners should be released without delay, and that the most infirm should be the first to be freed. The organization has repeatedly stated its readiness to supervise their repatriation. The prisoners are at present scattered among several detention centres in the Tindouf area in particular, where Sahrawi refugees have been living in extremely difficult conditions since the conflict began in 1975. The ICRC, which has visited the prisoners regularly over the years, urges that solutions be found to all the problems of humanitarian concern arising from the Western Sahara conflict.

Alongside their visits to prisoners, the ICRC representatives had discussions with officials of the Polisario Front and members of civil society on the subject of 178 Sahrawi combatants reported missing during the conflict. The delegates also called on the family of a Sahrawi prisoner visited in Morocco on 26 March 2001.