Liberated Territories of Western Sahara, Special Envoy.
Darkness already embraces the vast desert expanse; on the horizon, the sparse shadows of a few acacias stand out against the last gleams of the setting sun. The convoy of all-terrain vehicles begins to stretch: drivers are careful to leave their predecessors at a safe distance. Crossed the border which separates Algeria from the liberated territories of Western Sahara, they roll all lights out, signaling themselves from time to time by ephemeral calls of headlights.
After an hour’s journey on bumpy tracks, a bivouac emerges in the pale moonlight. A tent, two discreet braziers, the silhouettes of combatants in fatigues. The sand wall erected by the Moroccan state to cut off the free territories of those it has illegally occupied since the Green March of tyrant Hassan II in 1975 is located about ten kilometers away. In this sector of the four borders, a narrow strip of land on the borders of Western Sahara, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania, the Polisario Front has resumed its guerrilla warfare, since the ceasefire was shattered. , November 13, 2020, in Guerguerat. There, in a demilitarized buffer zone placed, at the gates of Mauritania, under the responsibility of MINURSO peacekeepers, Moroccan troops were deployed to drive out Sahrawi civilians blocking a road illegally built by Rabat through which transit, towards the Mauritania, the agricultural and fishery resources exploited in the occupied territories of the former Spanish colony. Enough to ignite the powder in a context of accumulated tensions.
A harassment strategy
Sitting cross-legged on a mat, a Saharawi soldier blows on embers. Around tea, a daily ritual, the combatants, most of them in their thirties, all volunteers, tell of a war that does not speak its name, a conflict that has grown steadily since the agreements and the ceasefire of 1991, far from the media spotlight. “The self-determination referendum provided for by UN resolutions never took place. Our rights have never been respected and the repeated violations of Moroccan power have never been condemned or punished. The international community has never fulfilled its commitments, it has been walking us for thirty years : it is the play of the powers which make their laws to the detriment of the peoples, sums up Sidati, a Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder, a beard of a few days old and a black scarf wrapped in a turban on his head. We long for peace, but we are forced into war to recover our rights. “ In the stillness of this starry night, he is interrupted by the roar of Grad rockets fired by his comrades near the wall. After a second salvo, the response of the Moroccan army is immediate. The crackle of a mobile radio receiver covers the conversation for a while; the whistling of ammunition rejoices the combatants. “Since the breaking of the ceasefire, it is a new political birth. We are happy to resume the fight, we are driven by the hope of one day conquering our independence, explains Mahmoud, born in the Smara refugee camp, in the inhospitable hamada of Tindouf, in Algerian territory. It is a commitment that we have made, we will continue in this way until the liberation of our homeland, until our families finally return to their lands. “
In this asymmetrical confrontation, the Polisario Front opts for a strategy of harassment, with small, highly mobile units with elusive movements. The Moroccan power, for its part, takes advantage of the formalization of its alliance with Israel, in return for the recognition by Donald Trump, shortly before his departure from the White House, of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, in contempt. of international law. In 2020, the Moroccan air force was equipped with Israeli Heron drones and the two countries are developing a manufacturing sector for Israeli suicide drones in Morocco.
These weapons have already inflicted human and material losses on the Sahrawi army. “We spotted drones for the first time in January. In the beginning, they were irregular surveillance overflights. Their exits are now frequent near the wall and we have recorded strikes by combat drones, with wounded and even dead, vehicles targeted ”, testifies the commander of the sixth military region, Abba Ali Hamoudi, without elaborating on the results of these bombings. The entry into the scene of these devices poses a serious challenge to the Sahrawi combatants, who nevertheless swear to be able to adapt to them. “Our tactics have always been the same, and drones do not change anything: we wage a guerrilla war, we choose the place and time of the attacks, we are everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The important thing for us is that the enemy can never have a day of rest in the territories which he occupies, colonizes and pi il illegally. We have the means to defend ourselves ”, continues the old officer, who joined the ranks of the Polisario Front in 1975, at the age of 18.
In the freezing night, sentries still keep watch when the soldiers fall asleep under the stars. At the first rays of day, the camp comes back to life; the fighters bustle around pick-ups which soon take the road with a shifting front. En route, other units aggregate, with rocket launchers mounted on antediluvian military vehicles, their green sheets smeared with earth. At the rear, the fighters scan the sky, watching for any reflections from a drone or a Moroccan plane.
A stone’s throw from the firing point installed in the Rouss Cheidhmia area, in the Mahbes sector, from the heights of a dune strewn with black stones, we can see the white line of the separation wall and, soon, in the din of crossfire, plumes of smoke rising from the impacts of the bombardments. To escape the Moroccan aftershocks, the Polisario soldiers placed false targets in the area. Impossible to assess the damage recorded in each camp. On the side of the Moroccan army, since the resumption of hostilities, it is ensured that “Heavy bombardments destroyed all enemy positions east of the security wall and the arms stockpiles” and that no “Victim or material loss has not been reported in the ranks of the Royal Armed Forces”. The Saharawi combatants, on the contrary, affirm that radio tapping near the wall confirms the damage caused by their attacks on the opposing camp, without giving further details.
There is no trace in this area of the UN force responsible for preparing a self-determination referendum which has never taken place and for ensuring respect for a ceasefire which no longer exists. On October 27, the UN Security Council is supposed to renew the mandate of this mission which has become, in the eyes of the 170,000 Sahrawi refugees in the camps, the symbol of an unbearable status quo. The diplomatic situation is blocked: the support of Paris in Rabat did not contribute little to the unraveling of the peace process of 1991 and to the burial of a self-determination referendum for which the electoral lists are nevertheless ready, but which the Moroccan monarchy, advocate of a hazy “autonomy plan”, never wanted.
In such a context, the explosions along the wall are as many cries from the depths of the desert. “War has never been a goal of the Saharawi people. Historically, it was imposed on us by the 1975 invasion and illegal occupation of our national territory, argues the President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Brahim Ghali. We are leading it today in a framework of self-defense, as a liberation movement which defends the right of its people to enjoy their rights and their sovereignty. We face with indifference the colonialism of an expansionist and aggressive Moroccan regime. There is no contradiction between armed struggle and the search for a solution negotiated under the aegis of the international community onale. ” Along a border that looks like a powder keg, the last decolonization conflict on African soil poses serious threats to peace in the region.