The Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro) is meeting to decide whether it is necessary to resume its armed struggle for independence against Morocco.
The three-day congress in Tifariti (pictured), a buffer zone area in Western Sahara, is significant because it marks the first time in 16 years that the Polisario has returned to using war as a means of securing independence.
The Polisario, whose army is known as the Sahrawi Popular Army of Liberation (SPLA), holds a congress every three to four years. The last congress was held in 2003.
The Tifariti meeting, which began on Friday, led Morocco to call on Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary general, to halt the meeting.
Morocco argued that the meeting violates the terms of the 1991 ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario.
Morocco’s call comes at a time when the UN is scheduled to facilitate negotiations which pertain to the status of Western Sahara.
The dispute over Western Sahara is the African continent’s oldest territorial dispute. The dispute began in 1975 when Spain left the region and Morocco moved to annex Western Sahara.
Western Sahara is a territory known to be very rich in phosphates and fisheries. It is also speculated that there are abundant offshore oil resources.
Morocco’s annexation action sparked a guerrilla war with the Polisario Front. Algeria, where the Polisario is headquartered, has supported the war against Morocco’s colonial presence in Western Sahara.
In 1991 the UN brokered a ceasefire and promised to facilitate a referendum on Western Sahara’s fate. As of this writing, that referendum has not taken place.
For its part, Morocco argues that the disputed region is part of its sovereign territory. It refuses to grant independence to Western Sahara but has offered a limited autonomy under the auspices of Moroccan rule and sovereignty.
The Polisario, understandably, rejects Morocco’s offer. Mohammed Abdelaziz, secretary-general of the Polisario Front, said at the Tifariti conference that
“a war of liberation which will continue until our noble aims are achieved … by peaceful resistance (or) by armed struggle."
And so the 32 year dispute over Western Sahara is set to reignite into a war that is hardly known outside of the region or the interest bearers concerned.
The United States, of course, supports Morocco despite the gross human rights violations forced on the occupied people of Western Sahara (Sahrawis).
The decision from Tifariti will be known later today (December 16). The African Union will be watching closely since the historical tensions between Morocco and Algeria are set intensify.
Whatever the decision may be, it is high time that the situation in Western Sahara be brought to the attention of the world.
For too long the inhumane actions of Morocco have been hidden behind its Western, particularly American, friendly face.
And as I write at least 200 000 Sahrawi refugees are living in deplorable camps in southwest Algeria while the UN remains characteristically slow in breaking the stranglehold of their oppression.
There is a need for a greater awareness of the inhumane conditions suffered by the Sahrawi people. Their freedom is our freedom and none of us can be free, as Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972) said, until all of us are free.
This post also appears at Indiginist Intelligence Review.