Dakhla Refugee Camp, Algeria, Jan 20 (EFE).- Nearly 70 percent of the 2,097 delegates taking part in the Congress of the Polisario Front voted here Friday to give Brahim Ghali a third term as secretary-general of the group that has spent 50 years striving for the independence of Western Sahara.
Ghali, 64, easily beat back an unprecedented challenge from one of his own advisers: Bachir Mustafa, brother of Polisario founder Luali Mustafa.
“The congress-members have voted today in a transparent electoral process that shows the democratic image of the Polisario as a national movement,” Congress chairman Mohamed Sidati said after the votes were tallied.
The result means that Ghali will also remain president of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), a government-in-exile that claims sovereignty over the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara, most of which is under de-facto Moroccan control.
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 in November 2020, when Moroccan troops entered Guerguerat, a village on Western Sahara’s southern border with Mauritania, to break up a road-blocking protest by Saharawis.
Ghali, in his capacity as SADR president, declared war on Morocco and the theme of the Polisario Congress at this refugee camp south of Tindouf is “intensifying the armed struggle.”
The gathering will conclude on Sunday with the election of a 27-member secretariat with a mission of helping Ghali implement the decisions made during the Congress, including a new rule that makes “combat experience” a prerequisite for anyone hoping to lead the organization.
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 2019.
Despite receiving an invitation, the Spanish Socialists, who lead the government in Madrid, did not send representatives to the conference in Dakhla.
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.
The new Spanish policy has come in for heavy criticism during the Congress.
Western Sahara is a mostly desert expanse of 266,000 sq.km. (103,000 sq. mi.) with a population of around 500,000. The region’s principal natural resources are phosphate and rich coastal fishing grounds. EFE mmlb-lfp/dr