Rabat – Countless research papers, analyses, and historical accounts tell the story of the Western Sahara conflict. However, these impersonal papers can only go so far in documenting the human stories of lost lives and lost dreams.
The all too true story of the real impact on the lives of the Sahrawis can only be seen through the eyes of those who have lived the conflict.
Since the beginning of October, former senior Polisario officer Mustafa Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud has been haunted by flashbacks of the guerilla war in Western Sahara which date back to the 1970s.
Mustafa Salma recalls the bombs that destroyed Sahrawis’ houses and shelters, leaving them homeless and in search of a place of safety.
The groundbreaking narrative directly contradicts years of Polisario Front-led propaganda that Morocco was responsible for the displacement of thousands of Sawahris.
Mustafa Salma revealed the untold story about the guerilla war and how the Polisario Front exploited the violence to displace Sahrawis from Moroccan southern provinces to the Tindouf camps.
The former separatist has spoken out about the violation of human rights by the Polisario front, a situation that has been ignored for decades by pro-Polisario academics and media.
For Mustafa Salma, the Polisario is not and cannot represent Western Sahara or Sahrawis. There are documents and statistics, proving how the front forcibly kidnapped thousands of Sahrawis to the Tindouf camps.
With several documents proving Polisario’s violations, Mustafa Salma questioned the existence of evidence that backs the Algerian and Polisario’s accusations against Morocco.
Polisario and Algeria have long accused Morocco of displacing Sahrawis.
But for Mustafa Salma the question remains whether there “is any evidence which proves that Moroccan forces took Sahrawi families and displaced it by force to Algeria or to Morocco?”
The camps are allegedly in dire conditions due to malnutrition, oppression, and other human rights violations.
‘I survived a massacre’
In one of his accounts posted on Facebook, Mustafa Salma took his followers on a journey into his memories of the conflict.
The former Polisario member entitled the post “how I survived the massacre.”
“I remember that my brother and I spent more than an hour to study on the evening of October 5 . It was the second month of the school season. We were in the fifth grade. The punishment was awaiting anyone who did not study. I remember that I organized my books and textbooks in my brown and black school bag,” Mustafa Salma wrote.
He said that the school was three kilometers away from their house.
“On the dawn of October the 6 we woke up terrified due to the sound of tanks ” and gunshots.
“Suddenly and without warning, the bombs began to fall closer. We witnessed the explosions. The bombs were falling as fast as if they came from a machine gun. People rushed to enter their houses. Due to panic, I went into our neighbor’s house with some people,” Mustafa Salma recalled.
The Polisario and Morocco fought for 16 years, it was the bloodiest war in the history of the dispute. The war ended with a partial settlement and a UN-brokered cease-fire in 1991.
Hundreds died during the war while other Moroccan soldiers were held captive in the camps for more than 25 years.
Mustafa Salma recalled that on the same day his house exploded.
“When I came out I saw a pile of cement instead of our house.”
Mustafa Salma said that it was the day when the Polisario Front took his with his cousin and her two sons to a place that they did” recognize.
“After a few miles, they left us next to a river and they told us to hide in the trees. In the same river, I found my mother and my brother and we finished the journey that lasted four nights to the Tindouf camps with other 750 civilians from the city of Smara.”
For Mustafa Salma, the displacement was the “largest kidnapping [ operation] and mass displacement of the Sahara war, which was called a ‘liberation, by the Polisario Front.”
Since the 1970s, it has been propagated by the Polisario-led narrative that Morocco was responsible for the displacement of the Sahrawi people. Mustafa Salma’s testimony directly contradicts this unquestioned part of the history of the Western Sahara Conflict.
Displacement to the inferno
Mustafa Salma recounted how the Polisario Front acknowledged the displacement and the kidnap of Sahrawis, who were taken by force to the Tindouf camps.
“A statement from the Polisario Front acknowledged they took with them 166 citizens [from a region called] Lbouirat,” Mustafa Salma said.
He added that the number of Sahrawis displaced from Tan-Tan to Tindouf must be bigger.
Mustafa Salma said that people in the city of Tan-Tan “certainly have statistics on those who lost their families in that [displacement] process. They know exactly who burned Tan Tan market,” referring to the Polisario Front.
The former Polisario member added that the separatist group admitted in several official statements that it had “forcibly displaced” more than 1,000 people from the southern provinces and from Oued Noun regions and took them to the Algerian territory during 1979.
The Polisario Front, however, was blocked from accessing more of Morocco’s southern provinces after Moroccan security services started the construction of its security belt in 1980.
“A massive displacement campaign began for several months, including the Sahara, northern Mauritania, and the Algerian-Malian border,” he said.
Mustafa Salma said that the guerilla war was a bloody event. During the devastating battles of the 1970s, he lost his two five-year-old sisters, as well as his pregnant cousin and her sibling.
The Western Sahara conflict did not end with the UN-brokered 1991 cease-fire. Nearly 30 years later, the United Nations is leading the political process to find a mutually acceptable and agreed upon solution to end the dispute.
The Security Council will convene by the end of October to vote on a new resolution to extend the mandate of the UN peacekeeping operation in the region, known as MINURSO.