Conflicts & War

Founder’s brother makes bid to lead Western Sahara’s Polisario

Dakhla Refugee Camp, Algeria, Jan 17 (EFE).- Bachir Mustafa, brother of Polisario founder Luali Mustafa and a veteran of Western Sahara’s independence struggle, told EFE here Tuesday that he will challenge incumbent Secretary-General Brahim Ghali for leadership of the movement.

Delegates of the 50-year-old Polisario Front gathered here last week for their 16th Congress with an eye toward “intensifying the armed struggle” with Morocco over control of the former Spanish colony.

Originally set to end Tuesday, the meeting has been extended for two additional days amid continuing disagreement over the proposed new strategy.

Signs of conflict within the leadership emerged last month with the resignation of Oubi Bachir, one of the movement’s most capable diplomats, as the official responsible for relations with Europe and the European Union.

In meetings ahead of the Congress in Dakhla, delegates agreed that in the current circumstances, combat experience is a prerequisite for the post of secretary-general, held since 2016 by Ghali.

And Bachir Mustafa, officially an adviser to Ghali, hinted then at a possible candidacy.

More than 370 international guests, including members of the leftist Podemos party, the junior partner in Spain’s coalition government, joined 2,200 delegates for the Polisario’s first Congress since the 2020 collapse of the cease-fire with Morocco.

Despite receiving an invitation, the Spanish Socialists, who lead the government in Madrid, did not send representatives to the conference in Dakhla, south of Tindouf.

Formerly warm ties between Spain and the Polisario turned frosty in April 2022 when Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez endorsed a Moroccan proposal for autonomy in Western Sahara as the “most serious, credible and realistic” solution to the conflict.

Ghali, who is also president of the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, described Spain’s new policy as “a dangerous change and a betrayal.”

Morocco invaded the region in 1975 as Spain withdrew. The Polisario – supported by Algeria – responded with armed resistance and won a judgment from the World Court backing the Sahrawis’ demand for self-determination.

Algeria played a major role in brokering a cease-fire between Morocco and the Polisario in 1991, a pact that envisioned a referendum in Western Sahara on self-determination which has yet to take place.

That truce broke down more than two years ago.

The previous Congress took place in 2019 in Tifariti, a town in the roughly 20 percent of Western Sahara that lies outside Moroccan control.

Western Sahara is a mostly desert expanse of 266,000 (103,000 sq. mi.) with a population of around 500,000. The region’s principal natural resources are phosphate and rich coastal fishing grounds.



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