Dakhla Refugee Camp, Algeria, Jan 13 (EFE).- Delegates of the Polisario Front, which has spent 50 years fighting for the independence of Western Sahara, gathered here Friday for their 16th Congress with an eye toward “intensifying the armed struggle” with Morocco over control of the former Spanish colony.
“We will not take part in any peace process that deviates from the initial plan of the UN and the African Union and which, consequently, does not guarantee complete respect for the inalienable right to self-determination and independence,” Secretary-General Brahim Ghali said to open the meeting.
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.
Formally 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.
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.
“We confirm in our 16th Congress that the Saharawi people will continue their just war of liberation,” Ghali said Friday.
Bachir Mustafa, brother of Polisario founder Luali Mustafa and a veteran of the struggle, is seen as a possible challenger to Ghali.
When EFE asked him earlier this week about his plans, Bachir declined to comment.
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 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