Refugees in Algeria yearn for homeland in Western Sahara

Salembouh and Ahmed Moulay Dadi in their house at the Boujdour camp for Sahrawi refugees on the outskirts of Tindouf, southwest of Algeria. Some 100,000 Sahrawi refugees live today in the camps around Tindouf. (AFP)
Updated 04 November 2017

Refugees in Algeria yearn for homeland in Western Sahara

BOUJDOUR CAMP, Algeria: Selembouha Dadi can only imagine the homeland she dreams of but has never seen, agonizingly out of reach beyond the Algerian refugee camp where she has spent her whole life.
“They tell me it was beautiful,” the 25-year-old said.
The territory that Dadi yearns for is Western Sahara, a sprawling swathe of desert on Africa’s Atlantic coast that has been disputed by Morocco and independence fighters from the Polisario Front for decades.
Her father Moulay abandoned everything and fled 42 years ago when Moroccan troops arrived in 1975 during the rush to claim the former Spanish colony as Madrid let it go.
Now, along with tens of thousands of other refugees, their family of nine lives in one of a string of refugee camps just 50 kilometers away, beyond the Algerian border and a “defense wall” erected by Morocco in the 1980s.
Morocco and Mauritania were meant to share Western Sahara when Spain relinquished control, but in 1976 the Polisario proclaimed the independence of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic — and was determined to fight for it.
Mauritania in 1979 gave up its claim, leaving Morocco to seize most of the 266,000 square kilometer territory, but it was not until 1991 that a UN-backed cease-fire came into force.
Rabat considers Western Sahara an integral part of Morocco and proposes autonomy for the resource-rich territory, but the Algerian-backed Polisario Front insists on a United Nations-backed referendum on independence.
The 2,700-kilometer barrier erected by Morocco slicing from north to south divides the 80 percent of Western Sahara controlled by Morocco from the 20 percent held by the Polisario.
Moulay Dadi, 72, served tea in a large traditional tent, a vestige of the Sahrawis’ nomadic past, and cooler than the nearby family cottage with its zinc roof.
He recalled his life back in his desert homeland herding the family’s animals. He was 30 when the Moroccan forces arrived.
“We fled and we left everything behind us, our animals, our property, the houses,” he said.
“We left everything behind us.”
He settled in Algeria’s Tindouf region with his wife and parents, who did not live to see their homeland again.
Some 100,000 Sahrawi refugees live today in the camps around Tindouf. They belong to a mosaic of nomadic tribes who have for centuries plied the sandy expanses of the Sahara with their camels.
The Dadi family’s Boujdour camp, which, like the other camps, bears the name of an area of the Western Sahara controlled by Morocco, is dotted with brown-walled houses the color of the surrounding desert, one of the most inhospitable in the world.
Their home consists of a large living room, a small dining room and a kitchen. The shower and toilets are in a separate building.
There is intermittent electricity and no running water. Trucks pass regularly to fill a large canvas water reservoir.
Like the Dadis, many Sahrawis have set up traditional tents next to their houses in the camp, where life moves slowly.
After the morning prayer, Selembouha Dadi and her mother, in her sixties, cook and clean.
The youngest of the children, 12-year-old Mellah, goes to school.
Some of her brothers work on building sites and the others are in the army of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
Sahrawi refugees in Algeria live mostly on funds from exiled relatives in Europe and on international aid.
The EU provides some, $11.6 million a year, despite the Polisario Front being accused of embezzlement in recent years.
Some residents have set up small shops — groceries, bakeries, fruit and vegetable stalls — in the camps.
Others work as officials for the SADR, which has its central administration in Rabouni, not far from Tindouf.
Isolated for decades and largely forgotten by the world, many Sahrawis still believe that they will one day return to the lands of their ancestors.
“We want our land whatever we find there,” Selembouha said.

Khalilzad announces ‘pause’ in Taliban talks after deadly attack on US-run airfield

Updated 12 min 26 sec ago

Khalilzad announces ‘pause’ in Taliban talks after deadly attack on US-run airfield

  • Peace talks had got underway again following Trump’s surprise visit to the Bagram base two weeks ago

KABUL: The US special envoy to Afghanistan on Friday announced a “pause” in peace talks with the Taliban after the militant group launched an intense hours-long attack on a key US military airfield north of Kabul.

Zalmay Khalilzad said he was “outraged” about the raid on the Bagram base which came just a week after he had resumed negotiations with Taliban representatives in Qatar.

In a tweet Khalilzad added: “(The Taliban) must show they are willing and able to respond to Afghan desire for peace. We are taking a brief pause for them to consult their leadership on this essential topic.”

Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman who is based at the group’s political headquarters in Qatar, tweeted that both sides had decided to have a few days’ break “for consultation.”

Peace talks had got underway again following American President Donald Trump’s surprise visit to the Bagram base two weeks ago, during which he announced the restart of dialogue aimed at ending the long-running Afghan conflict.

Trump had called off negotiations in September after a Taliban attack in Kabul killed an American serviceman.

In line with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the American leader had said a cease-fire was a must for relaunching peace discussions, while some US diplomats, including Khalilzad, viewed a reduction of violence as essential for the process to continue.

Following the latest pause in talks, Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, told Arab News: “Our position has been very clear. The Taliban must cease violence.”

However, there had been no pledge from the Taliban side or Afghan and US-led troops to halt attacks, neither when the talks were held in the past, nor during the latest discussions.

Wednesday’s pre-dawn attack on Bagram lasted more than 10 hours and forced the US military to use a fighter jet and helicopter gunships against the Taliban insurgents.

At least two Afghan civilians were killed, and more than 80 others injured, including five Georgian soldiers, during the fighting.

Khalilzad and US diplomats had held at least 10 rounds of secret talks with the Taliban prior to Trump’s September intervention to halt them. In his tweet, Shaheen said the latest meeting had been “very good and friendly.”

Analyst Akbar Polad said the pause following the Bagram assault was a blow to the peace process and “means a continuation of fighting and more pressure on the Taliban in the future. Either the Taliban do not know or are given false advice for launching attacks like (the one on) Bagram and claiming responsibility,” he told Arab News.

“The Taliban are given the illusion that they are the victors of the war, (that) they will replace the current government. When they conduct attacks, they will further face isolation in society as Afghans suffer the most, and because the Taliban refuse to talk with the government,” Polad added.

The resumption of talks last week, in the middle of a deepening political crisis over September’s presidential vote in Afghanistan, raised hopes of a possible breakthrough in the latest chapter of the war, which began with the Taliban’s ouster in a US-led campaign in late 2001.

A few weeks earlier, the Taliban and the US exchanged prisoners – an American and Australian – both professors at the American University of Afghanistan – for three militants jailed by the Afghan government.

The government has not taken part in the talks because of objections by the Taliban.

Ghani has been pushing for a truce before any discussions – either between the Taliban and the Americans, or between the Taliban and the government – take place.

The Taliban insisted they would only announce a truce after the US had agreed on a timetable for the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.

According to the Afghan government, however, the militant group’s political leaders based in Qatar do not have much clout over Taliban military commanders in the field.