Thousands of soldiers and supporters of The Polisario Front – the Western Sahara’s pro-independence movement, met on Thursday at the Dakhla Refugee Camp in the Tindouf Region of Algeria, to hold the start of a party conference.
The gathering will seek to discuss party policy and strategy in its struggle against Morocco, which has controlled most of Western Sahara since moving in 1975 after the withdrawal of Spanish colonists.
The Polisario movement’s 16th congress will also see a leadership election and runs until 17 January.
The U.N. Security Council has called for a revival of negotiations on the disputed territory and has expressed “deep concern” at the breakdown of the 1991 cease-fire between Morocco and Polisario.
The long running dispute shows no sign of ending.
The UN brokered 1991 cease-fire led to a peacekeeping mission that was also to help prepare a referendum on the territory’s future. The referendum has never taken place because of disagreements on who is eligible to vote.
Morocco has proposed wide-ranging autonomy for Western Sahara. But the Polisario Front insists the local population, which it estimates at 350,000 to 500,000, has the right to a referendum.
The Polisario Front ended the cease-fire in November 2020 and resumed its armed struggle following a border confrontation with Morocco which continues today.
Through the congress, the leadership of the Polisario Front is looking to maintain support within the party for its position that only a military approach can win independence for Western Sahara.
Secretary General of the Polisario Front, President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic Brahim Ghali, members of the Sahrawi national secretariat and delegations from nations that recognise the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic were in attendance.
The last congress was held in 2019 before the resumption of hostilities.