The Polisario front, which claims representation to the people of Western Sahara, has been ramping up its communication recently, in the attempt to re-legitimate its image as representative body of the Sahrawi. But while its political stance promotes recognition and protection of the Sahrawi rights to self-determination, international political institutions have a very different opinion of the Polisario front, as was recently highlighted by the OLAF report which detected humanitarian aid sidelining.
After Spain withdrew from Western Sahara in the 1975, the political vacuum received a prompt and double filling. The area became quickly intertwined with the economy of Morocco, whose companies rapidly developed the local economy of fishing, mining and phosphate extraction. Politically, the inhabitants of the region are administered by Morocco. But the Polisario Front, an armed separatist group of now several thousand men and women, aims to gain complete control of the region. The Sahrawi people live in an area which sits astride between Morocco and Algeria. The Polisario front launches regular activist actions and nourished communication campaigns to uphold its claims of defending Sahrawi rights. And if Polisario “officials” are allowed to sit in to UN meetings, they are not recognized as a governing body.
The Polisario operates in two different environments. On the Moroccan side, where it is outlawed for its numerous violent actions and its open defiance of the ongoing United Nations Peace process, its actions are limited to harassment and political messaging. On the Algerian side, however, it is allied with the Algerian government, namely in the co-administration of the notorious Tindouf refugee camp. It is difficult to know exactly how many souls dwell in the camp, because the Polisario refuses a headcount, but estimates hover between 1 and 200 000. The camp is regularly designated by international observators as rife with crime, extorsion, rape, theft and traffics which range from drugs to slaves. The Sahrawi enclosed in the camp are officially allowed to leave the camp but, if they do, they must leave their families behind as collateral, to ensure their return to the camp.
The camp administrators have regularly been accused of providing no protection to the refugees inside the gravely insecure camp, as a recent case of rape of an HCR civil servant revealed : “The doctor on duty issued a two-month sick leave, and noticed the multiple rapes which Rahmouna Dahousse underwent, as well as assault and battery. As the latter wanted to lodge a complaint, a mechanism led by the Polisario Front leadership was immediately set in motion to try to dissuade her [...] and suggested to send Khadija Hamdi, the wife of the Secretary General of the Polisario, to find a common ground.”. The Polisario administrators themselves seem to be a big part of the Sahrawi security problem, as the Polisario leader is under a Spanish arrest warrant for the rape of a translator in 2015. “Khadijatou who spoke about the incident in a documentary broadcasted on 2M, declares that after visiting the Polisario’s «embassy» in Algeria to retrieve a visa that she was granted through an Italian NGO, she met Ghali who raped her in his office” reports Latifa Babas.
Beyond these problems of criminal acting or condoning, comes the additional complication of the Polisario’s ties with terrorist movements, or partaking to terrorist actions directly. Western Sahara is already a potential hotbed for development of terrorist activities, as an article of Time extensively demonstrated: “According to Pham, Polisario should accept the offer of autonomy, because an independent state would not be viable. “The last thing Africa needs is another failed state, and that’s exactly what Western Sahara would become if Morocco left,” he says.” But this analysis, which predicts terrorism as a potential near future for Western Sahara, may already be outdated. Many claims have recently surfaced, namely through Wikileaks releases, that connivance is already afoot between the Polisario and well-known terrorist organizations.
In March of 2014, a document leaked from the Secretary of State links the Polisario to terrorist organizations since the 1970s, in their early days : “...in discussion with algerian fonmin [Foreign Affairs Minister - editor’s note] Bouteflika reported reftel [Reference telegram- editor’s note], assistant secretary Saunders explicitly linked Polisario to international terrorism and cited Algeria’s links with Polisario, PLO, and PFLP as example of support for international terrorism that would require sanctions under anti-terrorism legislation now pending in Senate [...] this is first time department has put Polisario in same category as PLO and PFLP”, the internal memo noted.
Today, the links still seem active, as the Tracking Terrorism NGO reports: ”The Polisario Front is a separatist group based in desert camps near Tindouf, Algeria. Intelligence reports have confirmed that al-Qaeda has established links with Latin cartels for ’drugs-for-arms’ smuggling through terrorist-trafficking networks that include members of the Polisario Front in Algeria.” Until the Polisario succeeds in taking over the Moroccan economy which is flourishing and active in the Western Sahara, it is likely to continue its dealings with rogue organizations in order to finance itself.
Unlike the Islamic State, which makes no mystery of its hostility to - and incompatibility with - the Western world and its political institutions, the Polisario has chosen the less staunch posture of the wolf in sheep’s clothes. A simultaneous study of the publicly-stated aims of the organization and of the actions carried out (either directly or by aiding and abetting) clearly point to a strategy of deception. So far, the UN and the international community have been somewhat blind to this fact, although the United Nations did recently pound the table, by pushing back Polisario troops, who had invaded a demilitarized zone in Western Sahara. Perhaps this new light will bring international observers to look a little closer into the Polisario’s actions and… unavowable objectives.