Brahim Gali is re-elected leader of the Polisario Front while the drums of war in the Sahara roll | International

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Brahim Ghali, leader of the Polisario Front, on January 13, 2023 in the Saharawi refugee camp in Dakhla (Algeria).- (AFP)

Brahim Gali, 73, has been re-elected this Friday as Secretary General of the Polisario Front with 69% of the votes of the delegates at the congress of the Saharawi independence movement held for a week in the Dakhla refugee camp, in the desert surrounding Tindouf (Algeria). Before reaching his third consecutive term as leader of the organization and, consequently, president of the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), Gali has been challenged by another historical leader, Bachir Mustafa Sayed, who broke the consensus that usually marks the Polisario congresses by presenting an alternative candidacy. In the Dakhla camp, the conclave of the Saharawi independentists has approved the intensification of hostilities against the Moroccan army, which have been taking place since 2020 after the rupture of the ceasefire agreed in 1991 with the mediation of the UN.

Gali led the armed struggle against the Spanish colonial army 50 years ago now, when he founded the Polisario Front with Mustafa and other young pro-independence fighters. Since then he has been a supporter of the armed struggle as a way towards the independence of the former Spanish colony, to strengthen his position in negotiations in international forums. His admission to a Spanish hospital where he was treated for a serious covid infection in 2021 sparked a diplomatic confrontation between Rabat and Madrid.

Warrior ardor in the camps

Among the delegates to the congress, Luali Dah Burha, 40, was dressed this week in an olive green uniform, like most Saharawis of military age. In the sessions they have redoubled with increasing force the drums of war against Morocco. This political activist was in November 2020 at the Guerguerat border crossing, opened by the Government of Rabat between Mauritania and the territory under its control in Western Sahara since 2017. "I remained there for 22 days, in a civil protest together with dozens of Saharawi men and women”, recounted Burha in the surroundings of the headquarters of the wilaya (provincial government). "They evicted us by force of arms, although fortunately there were no victims," ​​recalled the Moroccan intervention at the border crossing, where trucks operated by Spanish companies were trapped.

“Since the Polisario declared the ceasefire broken after what happened in Guerguerat, I have participated in several armed actions. I want to fight again in Guerguerat”, assured this determined supporter of intensifying the armed struggle. “Dying with dignity is better than suffering the slow death imposed on us by the international community,” he proclaims.

Burha's warrior ardor has joined that of the young Saharawi generations born in the Algerian camps after the 1991 ceasefire, who demand that the old Saharawi nationalist guard launch an open war against the Moroccan forces in the territory of the former Spanish colony. Sidi Ugal, director of Security, Documentation and Protection, the military intelligence service of the Polisario Front, has been fighting Moroccan troops since 1976. "Sahrawi society has reached a consensus that the 30-year ceasefire (1991-2020) ) under the UN plan have been full of lies. Morocco breached all its commitments," he told reporters Tuesday in Dakhla.

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The Guerguerat incident was the one used by the Polisario to unearth the hatchet that had been under its thumb for three decades. casus belli stony sands of the Hamada desert. "The negotiation without armed struggle has not had any results before the international community," said Ugal, who admits the demands that the young Sahrawis had been making to return to arms.

“We cannot compare ourselves with the enemy, but we must remember that it was Morocco that requested the ceasefire in 1991. At that time they had 66 Saharawi prisoners of war, and we had 3,000 Moroccan soldiers in our power”, he pointed out. “We are not satisfied with waging a specific battle in the face of the threat of Moroccan missiles and drones. They have had material superiority from the beginning, and we have always known how to counteract it over time. He spoke of the terrifying mirages French in the Royal Air Force, the great walls erected by Morocco in the desert, and now the Israeli drones. "We have always been forced to make tactical changes," he replies to questions about Moroccan military superiority. “We will find a way to deal with them with speed and agility, which are our best weapons. It's not the first time we've done it."

Morocco maintains almost absolute silence about the war it is waging with the Polisario. Its head of military intelligence considers it "a contradiction in a conflict that causes casualties every day and remains hidden from international public opinion, to preserve Morocco's interests in tourism and foreign investment," Ugal warned, while resorting to a saying of the desert tribes to refute the position of Rabat: "The sun cannot be hidden with a sieve".

The Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Naser Burita, admitted last November in Algiers, where he was attending the Arab League summit, the existence of an open armed conflict since the Polisario broke the ceasefire. "There are armed militias that attack Moroccan positions daily from... I'll let you guess which country," he told Sky News Arabia in a thinly veiled allusion to Algeria.

Rabat controls 80% of the territory of Western Sahara and offers an autonomy plan under its sovereignty in what was a Spanish colony until 1975. Algiers supports the independence movement Frente Polisario and defends a decolonization process through the desire for self-determination expressed in a referendum .

A conflict that you want to hide

"War is a reality that cannot be hidden," concludes Ugal, who was a general in the war against Morocco until 1991 under Gali's command. “As announced at the Polisario congress, there is going to be an escalation in the armed struggle with all the means at our disposal. We Saharawis have not found any other alternative”, summed up the head of Saharawi military intelligence.

In his reports, he assures that he is aware that there have been many casualties in the Moroccan ranks. “Every day we attack them. This past weekend there have been daily attacks with deaths, ”he specified without giving figures on enemy casualties. "We bombard fixed positions where there are hidden Moroccan soldiers: there must necessarily have been deaths," he said, without detailing data on the Saharawi casualties in the fighting, which other Polisario sources put at around fifty deaths, two-thirds of them civilians, since the rupture of the ceasefire in 2020. He has assured that the Moroccan attacks with drones have targeted Saharawi and Mauritanian civilians, and also against some Algerians. ”Morocco fires indiscriminately at anyone who moves through the area, transporters, artisanal miners. Anyone in the area is considered the target of an attack, he warned.

Young people enlisted en masse in the Ministry of Defense in an unexpected move that has filled military schools. "They prefer to die at once in a war than in another 30 years of slow death during the ceasefire," replied the soldier Burha, who acknowledges the existence of "martyrs" among the new Saharawi recruits. “We are waging a guerrilla war. We know the terrain. We hit fast. It is what we know how to do best, ”he adds. “The Moroccans have withdrawn between six and eight kilometers from their defensive positions”, revealed this combatant with the olive green turban that has replaced the traditional black color of the Sahara among the young men of the Polisario.

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