Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Georgetown is hosting a conference on Morocco

Here's a list of speakers and topics. None of them say they're about Western Sahara, but I'd like to know if you recognize any of the names and think they'd be worth seeing. I don't want to Columbia them, but tough questions never hurt anyone.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Updates a go-go

Friday, October 26, 2007

Celebrate Koalagate V-Day

Our long international nightmare is over. A week ago today the Together Foundation started to collapse when two members of its Board of Advisors disappeared from their website. Later that day, they were all gone. Now Together Foundation says it's not even sure there is slavery.

I talked to Philippe Elghouayel of the Together Foundation (and formerly the United Nations Development Program and MINURSO) Wednesday and asked him what happened to his board of advisors: "You scared them off." He claims a certain director of the Maghreb Center knew he was on the board of advisors and anything he says to the contrary is just blustering.

Also interesting, Philippe said the Together Foundation is working with Polisario to go to the camps and check out slavery claims because even the Together Foundation now doubts Fallshaw and Ayala. From the website:
Together Foundation had a meeting with a senior official of Frente Polisario in New York. It was a constructive discussion which concluded in the agreement in principle that the Foundation will put together a media team to visit the Tindouf refugee camps. Polisario will host the team and let them explore the camps freely and come up with their independent findings and conclusions. Watch for furnther information on the developments.
If you're interested, shoot him a line and maybe they'll save you a space in a Jeep.

High-fives for those who contacted the Together Foundation and Philippe and uncovered information. Especial love to Alle at Western Sahara Info for finding the MINURSO connection, Chasli for numerous scoops including the original board of advisors emigration, the Australian Western Sahara Association for slavery information, Khatry at Western Sahara Online for finding stuff, and the whole mess of you crazy kids who like to find stuff out about Western Sahara (and also destroy scurrilous foundations). Next stop: MACP!

This still leaves the more important issue of slavery in the camps unresolved. I've been in touch with Violeta Ayala and I'll let you know how that develops. If you find anything out or find particularly damning evidence either way, share it in the comments or by email!

Speaking of AWSA, they sent me this koala picture. They're one organization nice enough to keep me well-stocked with pleasing images of sweet animals. Step your game up, ARSO!

ICANN board denies SADR .eh domain

In a meeting last week the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) denied the competing requests from Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic for the last country-level domain, .eh. The issue had been brewing for a little while and it seems ICANN has opted to keep things that way.

But supporting the status quo doesn't mean remaining neutral, as anyone who knows why France vetoes adding a human rights component to MINURSO knows. Here's what the ICANN minutes say:
ICANN does not see a way to approve the .EH ccTLD delegation to one of the applicants without violating its long-standing policy unless the contesting parties are able to reach an agreement, either through their current negotiations, or through some alternate means.
Judging by how negotiations are going (not at all), there's not going to be an agreement soon. Organizations like ICANN need to start acting like Western Sahara is an independent country so it someday can be. Getting its own domain name wouldn't mean drastic changes for Western Sahara, but it would mean more people are aware of the Moroccan occupation. Surely that's worth a break in ICANN protocol?

Commiserate at

Monday, October 22, 2007

The plot thickens: Philippe Elghouayel was in MINURSO

I keep wanting to write about other Western Sahara topics, but how can I resist when the Together Foundation and its president, Philippe Elghouayel, are so wacky? To recount, Philippe left the UN Development Program for Russia under a cloud of suspicion.

Now, Alle of Western Sahara Info points out that on this Russian list of UN personnel (run it through Babelfish to check his work) Philippe is listed as MINURSO's Chief of Legation. My bureaucratese isn't what it used to be, but doesn't that mean that he was the head of MINURSO?

Was he wooed like other diplomats previously involved in Western Sahara (Robert Holley, Frederick Vreeland, Ed Gabriel) into signing on with Morocco? If so, it seems like someone wooed him pretty fast: Philippe was only briefly in MINURSO.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A change is going to come...

Hello Western Sahara aficionados! Three things before I go to bed:
  1. A certain Maghreb Center director has convinced me to wipe his name of the blog in relation to the Together Foundation. I'm all for unscrupulous blogging, but he's made a good point both for saving his name and the MC's. Therefore, I'll be revising my remarks about the Maghreb Center because they strike me as a decent group--they said Mouloud Said, SADR's ambassador the US, could give a lecture sponsored by them. If they cross Western Sahara in the future, all bets are off, but for now I'll be revising my posts and deleting posts mentioning his name, only to repost them edited. I'm sorry for that most of all because I hate any sort of editing of other people's opinions on blogs, but I did agonize for a while about this.
  2. There may be something even more delicious coming about Philippe (in case you haven't realized yet, I call him Philippe because I can't remember how to spell his last name).
  3. SADR seems to have a good plan to counteract these claims, which still may be true. We'll see!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Another one bites the dust--Together Foundation now has no advisors

The last advisor on the Together Foundation's board of advisors (hint: he's tight with the Maghreb Center) claims he's never been on it, in an e-mail and phone call to yours truly. He's off the list on their website as well.

Together Foundation house of cards: falling down.

Redacted--because I'm a nice guy

A certain Maghreb Center director who claims he never worked for the Together Foundation asked that I take his name off the blog. Normally I wouldn't do this, but since it seems like they just pulled him into it, I won't ruin his internet reputation--today!

Koalagate's blowing up--Together Foundation advisors disappear from website

The Together Foundation is getting shadier by the day. As Chasli of Western Sahara Endgame pointed out, Emily Toll and Steve Pershing dropped off the Board of Advisors sometime last night. I've left messages with Emily Toll and Steve Pershing who might be the right ones, so something on that will come up soon.

I talked to the president of the Together Foundation (it's his voice on the Foundation's voice mail) and he confirms that he used to be in the UN Development Program, but says he wasn't caught up in the fraud investigation. He didn't sound too happy to talk with me, and said Toll and Pershing just left because they felt like it.

More as it comes in!

UPDATE: There's a strange Russian connection developing. Philippe worked at the UN Development Program office for Russia, and Gregory Temkin runs Russian Standard, a company in New York that does registering and certifying for US goods being exported to Russia.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Suspicious slavery allegations from Daniel Fallshaw and Violeta Ayala revive Koalagate

Remember the Australian filmmakers Polisario detained in May? They said Polisario was mad at them because they had uncovered evidence of slavery in Tindouf. At the time certain blogs threw fits at the idea of Polisario holding slaves, but then the story went cold.

Now, though, the filmmakers, Daniel Fallshaw and Violeta Ayala, have released a press release through the "Together Foundation" that got picked up by a bunch of websites including AOL News, Yahoo, and Forbes. The press release expands their claims and introduces some new characters to the drama, namely, the Together Foundation. Their allegations might be true, but I've done some digging and it looks fishy.

First, I called Philippe Elghouayel, the contact listed on the press release (you can too: 914-231-6804). Philippe was less than pleased to talk with me. The first thing he said was "Where are you calling from?!". I deal with a lot of PR flaks working for the Voice, but I've never had one react like that. After I said I just wanted to find the Together Foundation's website because it didn't come up in Google searches, he snarled it at me. I'll probably be paying Philippe a call again soon.

Anyway, check out their website. It's an organization that's existed since 2005 and is dedicated to ending slavery in Tindouf, but I've never heard of them before, and no one else I've talked to has either. The Foundation's mediocre website says it's going to launch an expedition to Tindouf to investigate slavery. I emailed them to sign up--why don't you?

Looking at their website, I'm thinking "clumsy hatchet job", but where's the Morocco link? Check out the About page, which lists 5 people associated with the Foundation. Turns out Philippe's their president and Gregory Temkin (also written Tyomkin in the press release) is the vice-president. The board of advisors has three members: Emily Toll, Steve Pershing, and a director at the Maghreb Center.

At this point, the only people I've found information. But what information it is! Philippe Elghouayel was the head of the UN Development Program's Russia Office and was linked to fraud (credit to Chasli of Western Sahara Endgame). The Maghreb Center is where the real juice is, though.

It's not officially run by Morocco. But I attended one of its events at Georgetown that touched only briefly Western Sahara using milquetoast Jacques Rousselier. Its website doesn't list Western Sahara as a Maghreb country and autonomy fan I. William Zartman is on the advisory board. Update: After further talk with the Center's director, I've been convinced of its nonpartisanship on the Western Sahara issue. Their group also has pro-independence academics.

[redacted because this person, at director Maghreb Center claims he's never worked for the Together Foundation, and even I sometimes appreciate not ruining reputations. The point is the Together Foundation claimed him as their own just because he talked to them about slavery]

People are saying Morocco's agents in the US are tied to this. For his part, Robert Holley of the Moroccan-American Center for Policy pleads ignorance. If he's telling the truth, that doesn't mean Morocco's hands are clean--there's a bizarre interlocking web of PR and lobbying firms that are working for Morocco outside of the MACP.

Right now, it's a lot of potential links but nothing definite as to who's backing these allegations. aMore as I find it. If you have any information about the Together Foundation and its members or slavery in Tindouf, please comment or email me.

Flickr photo from Saveena.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I have Skype now

I just installed Skype, an internet voice-chat program, so I can talk with people through the internet like it were a giant phone. My name's not decided, but send me an email and we'll talk.

In an upcoming post, pictures and a recap from the Fourth Committee meeting. As a teaser, I'll list some of the people who spoke about Western Sahara:

-Janet Lenz of Be Their Voice
-Suzanne Scholte from US-Western Sahara Foundation
-Agaila Hemeida from Free Western Sahara

Plus, Chasli was there! With that list of luminaries, you'd be a fool to miss my next post.

Monday, October 08, 2007

I'm in a New York state of (decolonizing) mind

I'm in New York today and tomorrow for the UN's Fourth Committee. They're talking about decolonization issues including Western Sahara, so it'll be fun. If you're going to be there, send me an email (sommerwf - at- gmail) and we'll hang out.

Pictures and recap soon.

Saturday, October 06, 2007 takes up fight for .eh domain

There was talk earlier about the dispute between Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic over the last unassigned top level domain, .eh. The Sahrawis say they should administer it, Morocco says it should instead.

SADR seems to have taken some good advice and increased its online presence in this dispute by launching, a blog about SADR's claim. The site looks nice, but I wish it would update more (although I'm not in a position to talk lately).

There was some question about how SADR would run the domain, but I'm sure they could hire companies in Europe or Algeria for that. If Western Sahara gets to administer .eh, I'll register my domain as .eh.