Polisario Front

Fighting Is Long Over, but Western Sahara Still Lacks Peace

By Carlotta Gall, NY Times, Feb. 22, 2015

TIFARITI, Western Sahara–Ghalla Sid Ahmed and her mother eke out a living in this isolated desert settlement, subsisting on five goats and a war pension. For 40 years they have lived in exile, barred from their land by a heavily patrolled sand berm that runs like a scar for 1,600 miles through this remote corner of the Sahara.

They are the forgotten victims of one of the world’s last conflicts left over from the Cold War. There has been no fighting here for 24 years, since a United Nations-monitored cease-fire between Morocco and the Polisario Front, an anticolonial resistance movement that sought independence.

But there has been no peace, either, despite unfulfilled promises of a referendum to settle the status of the Western Sahara. Today, as change and conflict encroach from the wider region, the people here are once again agitating for a solution, warning of the resumption of war, as patience runs out.

“We like it here,” said Ms. Ahmed, 51, gesturing at their homestead and the desert beyond, “but it is very hard without independence and the rest of our lands.”

“No one wants war,” she added, “but if there is no result from peace, then I will give all my children to achieve independence.”

The Western Sahara stretches from Algeria and Mauritania in the east to the coast of the Atlantic. Morocco occupies the territory, and Moroccan soldiers guard the sand berm that was originally built to fortify the front line in the conflict but that still divides the native Berber-Arabs, or Sahrawis, a nomadic people of just a few hundred thousand.

A United Nations force monitors the cease-fire from half a dozen camps dotted through the desert on either side of the divide.

To the east, the Polisario Front controls a sliver of territory and a collection of refugee camps in Algeria. It remains the single authority over the refugee community. Its message of solidarity in the struggle for independence is unquestioned.

Polisario soldiers in fatigues mount patrols in the desert, while civilians, many of them women, run education and social services. Officials say they will introduce a multiparty democracy once independence is achieved.

The result is a tightly knit community that, despite the length of the struggle, remains committed to its cause. In interviews during a five-day tour of the camps and Polisario’s realm, the Sahrawis were adamant that the only solution for them was independence.

“If there is no other option we have to fight,” says Zubeir Mbarek, a Sahrawi herder and former guerrilla fighter. He lost three brothers in the war, and his house here in Tifariti remains in ruins from a Moroccan bombing raid 24 years ago. “We should prepare ourselves and be ready to defend ourselves.”

Once a Spanish protectorate, the Western Sahara was occupied by Morocco, and Mauritania briefly, when the Spanish withdrew in 1975. The Sahrawis had already begun an armed resistance against the Spanish and turned to fight the Moroccan Army.

They formed the Polisario Front in 1973, a Latin-American-style socialist guerrilla movement in the style of the Cold War, which gained support from Cuba, Libya and Algeria and later post-apartheid South Africa. Neighboring Algeria, which hosts the refugees, remains its most stalwart supporter.

The Polisario proved a resilient guerrilla force. It fought the Moroccan Army for 16 years, and declared the region the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, winning recognition from dozens of the eastern-bloc, developing countries and the African Union.

By the end of the war the Polisario had captured 4,000 Moroccan soldiers, shot down dozens of planes and seized a mass of military equipment and weaponry.

A war museum in the refugee center of Ribouni displays the evidence. Cabinets are filled with Moroccan military documents and hangars with captured weaponry and military vehicles, including American military trucks, and German, French and British field guns supplied to the Moroccan Army.

Even as generations are growing up never knowing their homeland, the sentiment for independence is unabated. A group of young people, walking from their tented homes to the center of Tifariti to visit the school and the few shops, named only one problem in their lives. “Morocco,” they said in unison.

The older people relate harsh tales of their flight under Moroccan bombardment in 1975. Thousands died in the war and hundreds were detained and disappeared by Moroccan authorities–400 remain unaccounted for to this day, according to Abdeslam Omar, who runs an association that has documented the disappearances.

Dekalla Mahmoud, a grandmother, recalled how, when she was nine months pregnant, she lost her baby during a monthlong flight with other women through the desert under Moroccan bombardment.

“We walked just at night, and during the day we hid,” she said. A single man with a car ferried groups of the women at night, without lights, from one hiding place to another. “Planes were moving over us, and we heard tank and artillery fire,” she recalled.

In the camps, desolate and dusty in the winter, infernally hot in the summer, the refugees will mark their 40th anniversary this year, living in tents, or small boxy homes made from cement breeze blocks, and dependent on assistance from the United Nations for food and water.

“Everybody hopes to go back home,” said Ms. Ahmed’s mother, Selma Ahmed, 80, who was born in the town of Smara, in territory now under Moroccan rule. “Everybody prefers to live in their own country.”

It is a common refrain, along with complaints that the United Nations and Western powers have failed to enforce the terms of the 1991 cease-fire, which included agreement on a referendum for the Sahrawis to decide on their own future, whether as part of Morocco or as an independent state.

“The reality is it has been a long time for our people,” said Brahim Ghali, one of the founding members of the Polisario, who led the guerrilla force throughout the war.

The younger Sahrawi leaders agree. “This region can do better and should do better,” said Mohamed Yeslem Beisat, the Sahrawi ambassador to the United States. “This all could be built around an honorable and legal solution.”

But Morocco has long since backed away from the referendum and insists the Sahrawis accept autonomy within the Kingdom of Morocco.

It has reacted sharply to opposition, breaking up a Sahrawi protest camp and imprisoning activists in 2010, and barring the United Nations special envoy, Christopher Ross, and the head of the United Nations mission to Western Sahara, Kim Bolduc, from visiting, causing a nine-month hiatus in negotiations, which has only just been resolved.

The Moroccan government, meanwhile, has embarked on large-scale development of the Western Sahara, and King Mohamed VI vowed in a speech in November that Western Sahara would remain part of Morocco for eternity.

“That does not leave much room for negotiation,” said a diplomat familiar with the region. He asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the dispute.

The members of the United Nations Security Council, especially the United States and France, which have interest on both sides of the issue with Morocco and Algeria, have little incentive to resolve the problem, he added.

But that does not mean that the people here have forgotten commitments made by outside nations in the past.

“I want you to carry a message to the United States of America asking for help, help for us to get independence,” said another of the Ahmed daughters, Tofa, 58. “We are a people and we were attacked in our land and we were treated unfairly. We just want our land.”

jadaliyya.com
Beyond the Western Saharan Debate

Following the French military intervention in Mali earlier this year in January, and the hostage crisis in Algeria that soon followed, major world powers briefly oriented their regional focus towards the Maghreb and Sahel regions. In the midst of the escalating conflict in Mali, pundits pointed to Morocco’s geopolitical position as an ally of France and the United States for a source of stability in the Maghreb and its neighboring regions.

Conveniently omitted from this argument is Morocco’s role in one of Africa’s longest lasting territorial disputes: that of the Western Sahara. Additionally, in light of the United Nations Security Council vote on the renewal of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), there has been a revival of the debate on the Western Sahara.

Interesting to go past discussions of the sovereignty referendum, and onto the less-discussed issues:

  • how Morocco uses “war on terror” narrative to fund oppression of the Western Sahara;
  • how the longest-running colonial conflict is basically unchallenged by other Arab countries;
  • how the Polisario Front is starting to be viewed like the Palestinian Authority (as benefiters from the occupation rather than warriors for its end)
Forty-two years later, the struggle continues in Western Sahara!

On May 20, the Unión Nacional de Mujeres Saharauis, or National Union of Sahrawi Women, marked the forty-second anniversary of the region’s struggle for self-determination. The Polisario Front, Western Sahara’s national liberation movement, was formed on May 10, 1973, and began its first armed action to end the occupation ten days later.

Learn more about the organization here:http://mujeressaharauisunms.blogspot.com/

Learn how CoR supports them here:http://www.culturesofresistance.org/groups-we-support-unms

news.yahoo.com
Polisario says UN resolution on Sahara 'not bad'


The Algeria-backed Polisario Front on Thursday gave a guarded welcome to a UN Security Council resolution on the Moroccan-annexed disputed territory of Western Sahara for which it claims independence. “If the resolution had expanded the mandate of the United Nations Mission for a Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to monitoring the human rights of Sahrawis, we would have described it as excellent,” said Abdelkader Taleb Omar, premier of the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic declared by the Polisario. “Sahrawis had hoped MINURSO would be tasked, like other UN missions, with monitoring human rights but that does not mean that the resolution is bad,” he said.
Source: AFP
Bitter Morocco-Algeria row before king's US trip

By Paul Schemm, AP, Nov 12, 2013

RABAT, Morocco (AP)–A Saharan stand-off may become a U.S. problem.

A nasty spat between Algeria and Morocco over the disputed region of Western Sahara has boiled over anew, as Morocco recalled its ambassador, angry protesters tore down an Algerian flag, and a Moroccan magazine called for land grabs.

When Morocco’s King Mohammed VI meets with President Barack Obama during his visit to the U.S. next week, the monarch will be looking for greater U.S. support as Morocco feuds with regional rival Algeria. The neighbors are jockeying for position in a dispute that leaves little space for the cooperation against al-Qaida in North Africa that Washington and its allies want.

Morocco has long made gaining international recognition for its 1975 annexation of the former Spanish territory on Africa’s Atlantic coast a top diplomatic priority. With Algeria backing the movement seeking independence, the two countries have been at loggerheads for decades.

Last month, Morocco temporarily recalled its ambassador–a major escalation that one former Algerian diplomat called an attempt to gain U.S. backing for its claim to Western Sahara.

“It was surprising and disproportionate,” Abdelaziz Rahabi told The Associated Press, arguing the move was designed to dominate the scheduled visit of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry this week that has since been postponed.

The U.S. priority in the region, however, has increasingly focused on fighting terrorism, with al-Qaida’s North Africa branch morphing into a Sahara-spanning organization with an elusive presence from the borders of Morocco to Libya. With the two most powerful militaries in the region at each other’s throats, building any kind of regional cooperation–especially to support weaker states like Niger, Mauritania and Chad–has been impossible.

Morocco has proposed wide-ranging autonomy for Western Sahara, but the Polisario Front, the pro-independence nationalist movement, insists that local people have the right to a referendum on the territory’s future as set out in a 1991 U.N.-brokered cease fire agreement that ended 15 years of fighting.

Algeria has backed the Polisario’s claims and provides the group with a haven.

Morocco withdrew its ambassador on Oct. 30 for four days of consultation after Algeria reiterated its stance that a U.N. observer mission in the region should include human rights monitoring. Morocco has been under fire from human rights groups who say abuse is widespread.

The Moroccan press savaged Algeria as attempting to dominate the whole region, with the weekly Maroc Hebdo, which often reflects the official position, running a front page story Nov. 1 demanding the return of several border towns it alleged had been “occupied” by Algeria back to the 1960s.

Crowds gathered in front of Algerian diplomatic missions. In Casablanca, a Moroccan man succeeded in scaling the consulate and tearing down the Algerian flag despite the presence of local police.

Part of the problem for Morocco is that Algeria and the Polisario Front have the force of international law on their side.

It also has to deal with the fact that the Security Council is increasingly considering the issue of human rights. In April, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, attempted to add human rights monitoring to the U.N. mission there, provoking howls of protest from Morocco.

The proposal was eventually dropped but bruised relations between the two countries.

“Human rights is slowly but surely becoming more important in security council discussions,” said Carne Ross, former head of the Middle East section at Britain’s U.N. mission and now part of a group that advises the Polisario. “When I was a diplomat at the security council 10-15 years ago people just didn’t talk about human rights in general, and now they do. And that’s been a long-term shift in how the security council talks and the Moroccans do not come out well in it.”

Mustapha Naimi, a Moroccan expert on the Sahara, explained that the latest dispute with Algeria was engineered by Morocco ahead of the king’s visit to the U.S., to highlight the dispute and discredit Algeria’s role.

“It will start with going to the Sahara, (the king) will announce reforms and then take the plane to see Barack Obama to say, ‘I am credible and should be treated as such,’” he said.

Maroc-Sahara occidental : Ban Ki-moon mené à la baguette par Mohammed VI ?

Maroc-Sahara occidental : Ban Ki-moon mené à la baguette par Mohammed VI ?

Alors que de nombreuses ONG affirment que les droits de l’Homme au Sahara occidental ne sont pas respectés, l’ONU ne donne toujours pas la possibilité à la Minurso d’enquêter sur ces accusations. Ban Ki-moon aurait-il les mains liées ?

La résolution adoptée mardi par le Conseil de sécurité de l’ONU, qui appelle simplement à améliorer les droits de l’Homme au Sahara occidental, sans pour autant…

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Dajla refugee camp. Hammered, Algeria.

Since 1975 Saharawis have been settled in refugee camps located in the Hammada Desert (Algeria), one of the hardest places on earth. As soon as the Moroccan occupation of the Western Sahara started and the vicious and bloody war diffused, more than 100,000 Saharawis made their way across the desert, under aerial bombardment, to Algeria, where they settled in five camps under the control of the Polisario Front  (the Sahawaris’ national liberation movement), which had been created two years earlier to overthrow the Spanish colonial rule. Algeria effectively ceded control of the region to Polisario, allowing it to be run as a semi- autonomous province near the military town of Tindouf. 40 years passed, Saharawis still live in refugee camps with no real perspectives to return to their homeland, due to the passivity of the international community.

Breaking the Media Blackout in Western Sahara | Inter Press Service

Breaking the Media Blackout in Western Sahara | Inter Press Service

This year will mark four decades since this territory the size of Britain was annexed by Morocco after Spain pulled out from its last colony of Western Sahara. Since the ceasefire signed in 1991 between Morocco and the Polisario Front – the authority that the United Nations recognises as a legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people – Rabat has controlled almost the whole territory, including…

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 Smara refugee camp. Hammered, Algeria.

Since 1975 Saharawis have been settled in refugee camps located in the Hammada Desert (Algeria), one of the hardest places on earth. As soon as the Moroccan occupation of the Western Sahara started and the vicious and bloody war diffused, more than 100,000 Saharawis made their way across the desert, under aerial bombardment, to Algeria, where they settled in five camps under the control of the Polisario Front  (the Sahawaris’ national liberation movement), which had been created two years earlier to overthrow the Spanish colonial rule. Algeria effectively ceded control of the region to Polisario, allowing it to be run as a semi- autonomous province near the military town of Tindouf. 40 years passed, Saharawis still live in refugee camps with no real perspectives to return to their homeland, due to the passivity of the international community.

Smara refugee camp. Hammered, Algeria.


Since 1975 Saharawis have been settled in refugee camps located in the Hammada Desert (Algeria), one of the hardest places on earth. As soon as the Moroccan occupation of the Western Sahara started and the vicious and bloody war diffused, more than 100,000 Saharawis made their way across the desert, under aerial bombardment, to Algeria, where they settled in five camps under the control of the Polisario Front  (the Sahawaris’ national liberation movement), which had been created two years earlier to overthrow the Spanish colonial rule. Algeria effectively ceded control of the region to Polisario, allowing it to be run as a semi- autonomous province near the military town of Tindouf. 40 years passed, Saharawis still live in refugee camps with no real perspectives to return to their homeland, due to the passivity of the international community.

Is Sidi Mohamed Dadach North Africa's Mandela?

Is Sidi Mohamed Dadach North Africa’s Mandela?

This Sahrawi’s life story is one of imprisonment and resistance since day one of the occupation of his land, 40 years ago

Sidi Mohamed Dadach poses at an undisclosed location in Laayoune, Western Sahara (MEE/Karlos Zurutuza) 

Polisario Front fighters line up in the so called ‘liberated territories’, the tiny strip of land under Sahrawi control (MEEKarlos Zurutuza) Karlos Zurutuza-Wednesday 19 August 2015 

LAAYOUNE, Western Sahara – Naman Street is one of the very few tree-lined avenues in Laayoune. The local Sahrawis, however, call it “Dadach” in honour of Sidi Mohamed Dadach, a famous dissident who was received here by thousands after spending 24 years in Moroccan prisons.

Is Sidi Mohamed Dadach North Africa’s Mandela by Thavam Ratna

Posted by Thavam