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At least one member country of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has ruled out joining Dominica at the recently opened consulate in Dakhla in the disputed territory in Western Sahara, after Roosevelt Skerrit, the prime minister, announced that he had opened a consulate there on behalf of the sub-regional grouping.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines will continue to conduct its diplomatic mission in Morocco from the capital, Rabat, where the OECS already has a joint embassy, according to Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the Vincentian leader.

"It may well be the OECS, I don't know, but St. Vincent and the Grenadines is not party to the consulate. We are in the mission in Rabat," Gonsalves told The Sun. "We have good relations with Morocco, but some may want to go to the territory in Western Sahara, but that's not something which is at the top of the agenda for St. Vincent and the Grenadines in terms of diplomatic work."

A former Spanish colony, Western Sahara, which is home to phosphate reserves and rich fishing grounds off its coast and is also believed to have as yet untapped offshore oil, was annexed by Morocco in 1975. It has since been the subject of a long-running territorial dispute between Morocco and its indigenous Saharawi people, led by the Polisario Front.

The United Nations considers the Polisario Front to be the legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people and maintains that the Sahrawis have a right to self-determination. Until 2020, no UN member country had ever officially recognised Moroccan sovereignty over parts of Western Sahara until the Trump administration in the US did so in exchange for Moroccan normalisation of relations with Israel.

And while Sierra Leone, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Djibouti, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo have all opened consulates in the disputed region, Kingston is not about to join them there, alone or as part of the OECS.

"I [have spoken] to Didacus Jules, [the OECS director general], asking him to write a note confirming that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is not party to it," Gonsalves said of the consulate.

Dominica's Government has not announced the move

As was the case with the highly controversial decision to establish diplomatic relations with Syria – a move that cost Loreen Bannis-Roberts her job as Dominica's ambassador to the UN – no announcement was made here by the Skerrit government regarding the opening of the consulate in Western Sahara, while stating it was not unusual for some countries to be part of a consulate while others choose not to.

In fact, it was the Moroccans who released the joint statement which quoted the prime minister as saying he opened the consulate in Dakhla on behalf of OECS member states.

However, one source with knowledge of the situation told The Sun that at least three OCES countries knew nothing of the decision, which prompted career diplomat Crispin Gregoire to conclude that Skerrit acted alone.

"Really, it's a solo initiative of Skerrit," Gregoire told The Sun. "The Moroccans would like it to be an OECS thing but I can clearly understand why Ralph would not want to be associated with a consulate in occupied territory."

No other OECS country represented

The solo act theory is supported by the fact that no other OECS country was represented at any level at the official event - neither the ambassador in Rabad nor the OECS director-general was present. And the OECS secretariat has not issued any statement on the diplomatic move.

In addition, Nasser Bourita, the Moroccan foreign affairs minister, spent almost his entire presentation at the inauguration heaping praise on Skerrit for his unrelenting support for Morocco and the "strong partnerships that unite" the two countries.

"Skerrit's personal and consistent positions in favour of Morocco's territorial integrity and sovereignty over its Sahara have been clear from day one and have been expressed in all regional organisations and at the level of the United Nations," the Moroccan News Agency quoted Bourita as saying.

The foreign minister's only reference to the OECS was a boast that the opening of the consulate representing six independent members of the inter-governmental grouping "confirms the growing support for the Moroccan Sahara and the consolidation of Morocco's sovereignty over its southern provinces."

But with St. Vincent and the Grenadines opting out and with the participation of the remaining countries uncertain, Gregoire concluded that not only is there little evidence to support Skerrit's claim that it's an initiative of the sub-regional grouping, but the move also damages the OECS's credibility.

"It puts into question Dominica's rationale for calling it an OECS initiative. The second thing is that it to me, it's just a huge error to establish a consulate in occupied territory. That doesn't bode well for the credibility of the OECS," the career diplomat told The Sun. "For the OECS to . . . open a consulate in occupied territory, they should not allow themselves to be used by Morocco. And I think that's what Ralph recognises - and he might not articulate it in those terms - but that is what he knows. He knows it's the wrong thing to do."


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