Western Sahara: Polisario Front detains journalists?

While it is always bad news when journalists are detained or harassed, we are extremely skeptical that there is "slavery" in the Polisario Front's refugee camps—and about this report generally. From South Africa's News24, May 7:

SYDNEY — Two Australian journalists who were making a documentary on slavery in refugee camps in northwest Africa were briefly detained in Algeria by separatists, an official said on Monday.

The pair were released unharmed by the Algerian-backed Polisario Front, an independence movement fighting for self-rule of disputed Western Sahara, annexed by Morocco in the 1970s, a foreign ministry spokesperson told AFP.

"We are aware that two Australian journalists who were making a documentary in the Western Sahara, in the border area between Algeria and Mauritania, have encountered difficulties with the Polisario Front," he said.

"But they left the area by commercial flight on Sunday and we understand they are now in Paris, but we are awaiting confirmation on that," the spokesperson told AFP.

The department would not confirm the names of the pair, but local reports said they were Sydney-based independent filmmakers Violeta Ayala and Daniel Fallshaw.

The pair were detained after it emerged they were making a documentary about slavery and racism in refugee camps run by the Polisario Front in southwestern Algeria, reports said.

Australia does not maintain an embassy in Algeria but its embassy in Paris "made vigorous representations to the relevant authorities to seek their release," the ministry spokesperson said.

Australians are strongly advised not to travel to Western Sahara due to the risk of landmines and terrorist attacks.

Morocco annexed the desolate but phosphate-rich Western Sahara after the withdrawal of the region's former colonial power Spain and neighbour Mauritania in the 1970s.

A war ensued with the armed Polisario Front, which was set up in 1973 and established itself as the sole representative of the nomadic Saharan or Sahrawi people.

The conflict ended in 1991 with a UN-brokered ceasefire but the question of self-determination has not yet been settled.

This story betrays its bias by calling the Polisario Front "separatists." Polisario are not "separatists" but independence fighters, because Western Sahara is not part of Morocco. Nor have there been any "terrorist attacks" in Western Sahara. Polisario have not targeted civilians, and in any case have honored a truce since 1990. So this account is clearly jaundiced. Does anyone have more information on these charges?

See our last post on Western Sahara.

The journalists speak

Received from Jacob Mundy:

Press release issued by Daniel Fallshaw and Violeta Ayala
Paris, 7 May, 2006

We have been working on a documentary film focusing on the life of one family living in the Saharawi refugee camps in the Tindouf region of Western Algeria. The film deals with the separation of Fetim from her mother, separated 31 years ago as a three year old when Morocco invaded Western Sahara. Ambarka Fetim's mother who lives in the occupied territories of Western Sahara flew for the first time to the refugee camps in Algeria on 2