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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 01/16/2011

Exclusive: Ex-Polisario Front police chief tells his story

By Jennifer Rubin

Mustafa Salma Uld Sidi Mouloud, as I have previously reported, is the former police chief of the Polisario Front, a Soviet-style liberation group that has resorted to violence against Morocco and the people of the Western Sahara. The front also has opposed (in conjunction with Algeria) an autonomy plan proposed by Morocco that could end the suffering of those living in squalid camps in Algeria.

I was able to contact Sidi Mouloud and, with the help of a translator, ask him to explain his decision to turn against the Polisario Front and to tell his story of captivity by the group.

He told me that he originally "left the Sahrawi camps in Tindouf to visit members of my family in Smara. It is a human right and a duty to visit one's family. Freedom of movement is a legitimate, necessary freedom and the Polisario Front turns exercising this right into a crime of treason or fleeing to the enemy."

It was then, he said, that he had a change of heart about the Polisario's mission. "After I became aware of how Morocco really is, seeing its democratic openness," he said, "I reflected on the conflict that has lasted so long. I arrived at the conclusion that the Sahara conflict cannot be resolved by total independence from Morocco because it is against Algeria's interests and this complete division would be against the interests of the Saharawis as well. So, the only remaining possible solution, given international resolutions, is a consensual political solution satisfactory to all parties, which is autonomy -- one that is internationally agreed upon and in everyone's interests."

He then described his capture by the Polisario Front:

During a press conference that took place in my fathers house in Smara, I expressed these beliefs, and the Polisario Front considered me a traitor.... I tried to return to the Tindouf refugee camps, and on the way there they detained me. Four Polisario Front military vehicles took me to an unknown location where I remained for 71 days in the middle of the desert.

Was he abused in captivity?

Polisario guards and secret agents carried me back and forth between mountainous areas where I had to live for 71 days under the trees in the Sahara, sleeping in the sand and being bitten by insects and snakes. I thank God that these injuries were not serious. On several occasions, they tied my hands and feet, blindfolded me and left me without water to drink for hours. I received death threats. For two weeks, they interrogated me, and when they were done, they told me that I cannot return to the Tindouf camps by order of the Algerian authorities and I cannot see my family, nor can they visit me.

His capture caused a storm of protest from the United Nations and human rights groups. That may well have triggered his release. He recounted that after "71 days under the desert trees, without any information from the outside world, they turned me over to the refugee organization [UNHCR] and carried me north to Mauritania."

He is now, literally, a man without a country. He told me:

Today, I am exiled from my family who are in the Tindouf refugee camps. Like all the Saharawi refugees in Tindouf, they do not have travel documents to leave Algerian territory and they don't know how to obtain them, even though it is a right to be reunited with one's family. I appealed for international human rights pressure on Algeria and the Polisario to get me out of that difficult situation, and the same is necessary for my current difficult situation, because I am separated from my family. I have no access to reunite with them, nor can I travel to Algerian territory. Anyone who leaves the refugee camps without permission of the Polisario Front is considered a traitor who is committing a crime and, according to the Polisario's penal code, such actions are punishable by ten to 20 years in prison, and this goes for all Saharawis for the last 30 years. When I tried to raise my voice about the Polisario and Algeria's disregard for human rights, they expelled me.

He is plainly fearful for the future of those caught in a humanitarian conflict. He said: "The situation is grave for the youth who are marginalized, and I feel that the camps are fertile grounds for Islamic fundamentalist groups and drug traffickers. The young Saharawis are getting caught up in these illicit activities and it is costing them their lives. "

But he also made a convincing case that the danger is not limited to the Saharawis. He observed: "The Sahara issue is central to the interests of the countries in the region. Algeria will not accept Morocco in control of the Sahara, given it would expand France's interests, which would lessen Algeria's influence in the region. Morocco will not accept Algerian control of the Sahara under any circumstances. We, the Saharawis, are very small in number.... [There are] only about 84,000 of us. This number of people could not form a country without outside help and such a situation would not be accepted by any country in the region. In my opinion, the only logical, fair and lasting solution is autonomy for the Sahara that respects the interests of the countries in the region."

The question remains as to what, if anything, is the U.S. and the international community are willing to do to alleviate the situation. Is the Obama administration prepared to take stern actions against Algeria if it does not stop obstructing a resolution of the conflict? Will the U.S. designate the Polisario Front as a terrorist organization? It appears that without further action, Sidi Mouloud's exile will continue, the suffering in the camps will persist, and the region will become a breeding ground for terrorism.

By Jennifer Rubin  | January 16, 2011; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  foreign policy  
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Thank you Jennifer! This is an eye-opening editorial. The more I learn about the Western Sahara conflict the more irritated I become. Indeed the interest of the Sahrawi people is caught in the middle of two regional powers, Morocco and Algeria. The US needs to step in to pressure Algeria to stop financing the Polisario front and release the refugees from the camps.

Posted by: sam_adams1 | January 16, 2011 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Looks like the Ben Ali's made out OK though:

Posted by: TominColorado | January 16, 2011 11:15 PM | Report abuse

Reading this has really opened my eyes to the realities of the Polisario. I think Morocco needs to be applauded for the positive steps they have taken to end this relic of the Cold War which Algeria seems determined to sustain. The world needs to see the true face of the Polisario.

Posted by: Laperton | January 17, 2011 5:49 AM | Report abuse

@Almetadel , I'm afraid you haven't realized that the Berlin Wall has fallen down and that your Fidel Castro has become a toothless lion! Your Polisario is now a synonym of Terrorism, why don't you leave the refugees alone - that you still kidnap? Time for your propaganda came to an end the moment the rotten system of USSR came to an end, too!

Posted by: samuel-lary | January 17, 2011 7:53 AM | Report abuse

The Moroccan solution (i.e autonomy) is a very realistic one, and the Frente Polisario's stubbornness to "achieve" independence from Morocco has not offered and will not offer any potential for progress.

However, not only the US should intervene to support this just solution, the whole world community should urgently embrace the Moroccan solution that promises dignity, justice, and better conditions for the Moroccan Sahrawis, and prosperity and stability for the region.

Thank you Jennifer Rubin for the enlightenment.

Posted by: elkaryani | January 17, 2011 10:38 AM | Report abuse

I would be interested to know if the author has ever taken the time to travel to the Tindouf refugee camps and speak with the Saharawis living there? I have spent several months in the camps, and can assure that none of what is reported in this article is true. Rather, it is full of propaganda that is extremely damaging for a peace process that is currently in the hands of the UN, whose General Assembly and Security Council continue to support the Saharawis' right to determine their own future.

Does it not seem ironic that Mustafa Salma Uld Sidi Mouloud's comments are a verbatim repetition of the Moroccan accusations against the Polisario Front? Biased and polarizing articles like this one (as well as those against Morocco) are one of the many reasons that this conflict has not been solved over the past 35 years. I would appreciate it if the author could provide her contact information so that I could speak to her about the truth in the Tindouf camps. Please check your facts before presenting them as such.

Posted by: Tim47 | January 17, 2011 10:57 AM | Report abuse

The Polisario, this group of mercenaries, is dying, but it did not admit defeat, while in the field of battle, it has been beatten, now it does not know what to do, especially when the majority of the founders of this organization has joined Morocco, all they (the polisario leaders and their supporters) have to do is calling them names, one was a poor teacher, the other was a mere police officer and the other was a traitor in the pay of the regime in Morocco and blah blah!

Posted by: samuel-lary | January 17, 2011 1:30 PM | Report abuse

The Tindouf camps lay south western Algeria, not far from the border with Morocco; thereine tens of thousands of Sahrawis have been warehoused for the last thirty five years, stripped of their basic rights and of their rights as refugees.
The camps are on Algerian soil but Algeria delegates the administration of the camps to the alleged liberation group called the Polisario, which is in total contradiction with international law according to human rights organizations.
On the other hand, Algeria gives the status of “refugees” to the Sahrawis but doesn’t apply the 1951 Geneva Convention and the 1967 related Protocol to them.
The Sahrawis living in the camps do not have the right to move and settle on Algerian soil, or in any other country of their choice, and are not allowed to engage in gainful employment either. The US committee on Immigrants and Refugees and the Washington-based Moroccan – America Center call this a form “warehousing”, whereby the Sahrawi population is sequestrated and held within the camps against its will for political purposes.
Moreover, despite repeated calls from UNHCR and other international organizations and bodies, Algeria refuses to allow a census of the population. The World Food Program provides rations to 125000 people, but independent sources using aerial images, estimate the Sahrawi refugees in the Tinduf camps at 60 000 to 90000.
A good part of rare humanitarian aid has been documented to be smuggled by Polisario and Algerian officials and sold on the black market in Algeria, Mauritania and even in Mali and Niger.
In addition to being denied their rights as refugees, the Sahrawis living within the camps have suffered forced disappearances, the cases of which have been documented by international human rights organizations.
Women that get pregnant out of wed lock are jailed, a practice that is not denied by Polisario officials. Children are taken away from their families and deported to Cuba for indoctrination purposes, a practice that is in contradiction with international conventions regarding the rights of child.
Political expression within the camps is muzzled and strictly repressed. The most recent case of abuse of the right to political expression and freedom has been that of Mustapha Selma Oueld Sidi Mouloud, who, as is reported in this article, was kidnapped, jailed and probably tortured because he dared to support the Moroccan proposal for autonomy in the Western Sahara. After pressure from world governments and international organizations, Algeria and the Polisario released him but they denied him entry to the camps and reunion with his family.
When will the international community and world conscience wake up and come to rescue of tens of thousands of Sahrawis held against their will and trapped as pawns in a political game that strips them of their basic rights?
How can we tolerate that in the twenty first century people are warehoused as alleged refugees with no rights?

Posted by: haddad2 | January 17, 2011 2:01 PM | Report abuse

How can we tolerate that in the twenty first century people are warehoused as alleged refugees with no right to identity, freedom of movement or gainful employment at a moment when countries like Morocco, Spain or Mauritania are ready to receive them and allow them to mingle with their respective societies and achieve their life dreams?
It is high time world leaders and world public opinion said NO to the use of innocent people in geostrategic games. For thirty five years, Sahrawis have suffered under an illegal Stalinist system working on the soil of a sovereign nation that denies them their rights while at the same time swindling a good part of the humanitarian aid the international community mobilizes to keep them alive. It is high time we all said: halt to the suffering of Sahrawis in the Tinduf refugee camps in Algeria.

Posted by: haddad2 | January 17, 2011 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Jennifer, i like to add that the polisario group was created by libya Leader Kaddafi and algerian regime in 1975, during the cold war, and because Morocco was a pro western country, these 2 regimes tried to distabilise the kingdome of Morocco. later kadafi withdraw his military support, but algeria persist for it's own geostarategic interest by having access to the atlantic oceean not for the right for the sahrawi people, we need to know that the majority of sahraouis live in morocco in peace and prosperity , enjoying the freedome of speech and mouvement, also the so called president of the polisario mouvement is a natif of Marrakech he is not a sahraoui and his father, brother and sister live in Morocco and tey are supporting their countrie (Morocco) against the polisario and algeria regime.
The united atate and countries should support Morocco for it's effort to end this conflict, and pressure the algerian regime (military dictaturship)to stop this non sense and allow the reffugies to return to their countrie. algeria is better off having good relation with morocco and build a vibrant maghreb arab union (mauritania, Morocco, algeria. tunisia and libya) where economic prosperities acroos the board can reach millions of citizens of these countries. instead of having a hot spot for terrorism.

Posted by: rizkkarim | January 17, 2011 9:57 PM | Report abuse

When Morocco got back western Sahara, the same year Polisario strengthens its existence in Tindouf backed by Algeria, it's priority was to develop the region socially and economically for the Sahrawis to live in respect and dignity rather than continuing in a ferocious war with polisario making more victims and investing in weapons. In the meantime, Algeria was pouring its people's wealth in the pockets of a handful Polisario members and tightening the belt on the poor sahrawis. While all Morocco's efforts went to building a modern Sahara Polisario, with Algerian govenment's support, has been travelling the world introducing itself to the international organizations as a victim, using the miserable conditions of the 'confined' people, the misery they have created, to get the world's sympathy and support and at the same time spreading anti Morocco propaganda. That era is now gone and it is time for the world to know the truth of Polisario, a terrorist cell threatening stability in the region and in the world. An anti human rights tribe that deprives the poor sahrawis from the least of a normal life fundamentals: family and food, leave alone freedom of speech and living fear and frustration free. Having the right of living instead of existing as a numbers in Polisario's statistics, those numbers they are using wrongly to get international support. Dissolution of the Polisario Front and sahrawis joining their fellow countrymen under Morocco's sovereinty remains the solution that will bring the stability, peace and prosperity to the region. Thank you Ms. Rubbin for your great contribution in bringing this cause to the world's attention.

Posted by: Fzahmoun | January 17, 2011 10:21 PM | Report abuse


"Jennifer, I am really disappointed with your article not only because it is biased and lacks objectivity as it portrays only one side of the story but also because it includes many inaccuracies. For example:

First, your story is not exclusive because Mustapha has already made interviews after his release with other media outlets such as Moroccan TV 2M and the radio station “Med Radio”. In those interviews he said the same thing he told you.
Second, Mustapha is not the ex- Polisario Front police chief. He was only a police inspector in one of the five Saharawi refugee camps.

We presume that the interpreter is Moroccan we don’t know whether he relayed in a honest manner what Mustapha said. Because in this article Mustapha is allegedly said “they tied my hands and feet, blindfolded me and left me without water to drink for hours” something he denied in other interviews! He also never mentioned that he was bitten by snakes before! It’d be interesting to know how he survived those poisonous bites?

The question is if Mustapha is really happy with Moroccan rule why didn’t he return to Morocco, the country that supports him and which presumably encouraged you to interview him?

What the US and the international community can do is to allow the UN to monitor the situation of human rights both in the Saharawi refugee camps and in the occupied areas so that we can all know exactly what is happening in these areas. Then, the UN should be also allowed to organize the long overdue referendum of self-determination so that the people of Western Sahara can decide freely their future and choose integration with Morocco, autonomy or independence.

The US can not go against the right to self-determination. Because it is an inalienable right for which so many American lives were sacrificed.”

Posted by: Almetadel | January 18, 2011 1:16 AM | Report abuse

To Tim47, do you have any idea what are you talking about? I doubt that you have been to the Camp. Its unbelievable, every body who reported the truth about this terrorist group (Yes, terrorist group) is accused for doing Propaganda. The Australian TV reported cases of slavery in the camps (Although the main objectives of these journalists were anti-Morocco at the beginning, until they saw the reality by themselves). The brain washing practiced on young kids that are sent to Cuba is propaganda as well. The thousand and thousands who escaped the terror camps and reported abuses are lying as well. The report by France liberty (again another anti-Morocco organization) who reported human abuses and wild spread corruption among the Polisario leaders.
The truth comes only from Polisario, right?.
I can guarantee you one thing, if Morocco had another neighbour other than Algeria, this problem would have never occured. This is the country who massacred more 200 000 people in 10 years, created AQMI, country of terror, richest country on the paper, poorest in the reality.
The referendum can not be organized for the simple reason that they never agreed on who can vote. Sahraouie people are nomad, they never stay in the same place. According to the criteria of the referendum, even the president of Polisario and his gangs can not vote, they were born outside of the disputed Sahara, in Morocco.
Wake up man.

Posted by: ecobam2000 | January 18, 2011 7:11 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: zak301 | January 18, 2011 1:21 PM | Report abuse

The truth that hurts!
I join zak301,ecobam2000,Fzahmoun,
and rizkkarim, to name a few,in their perception of the issue in the Moroccan Sahara, that lasted too long; in fact the problem is between two Countries Algeria and Morocco, the first being an ally of The USSR and the latter a friend and ally( the first state to recognize USA as an independant Country)Algeria still longs to have its role that it had during the Cold War, namely its expansionist policy in the region; Saharan people are the last of its worries.
Now that the Cold War belongs to Hitory,
I hope the U.S. helps Algeria get to the evidence of the tragic end of the USSR.
PS:Algerian Ambassador to Washington, Mr. Baali would have contacted an official of the public broadcaster PBS to ask him to grant an interview to the Polisario representative to the UN, Ahmed Boukhari.
Stinging response of the channel: "we do not interview terrorists ..."

Posted by: samuel-lary | January 18, 2011 2:15 PM | Report abuse

I've actually been to the camps three times, and once was for a 3-month stay. So I've gotten to know the people there fairly well. But thanks for asking!

Posted by: Tim47 | January 18, 2011 7:20 PM | Report abuse

You must actually have been fooled, Tim 47! During your stay there everything must have looked perfect, but things, God knows, don't occur the way that they pretend to ( ask those who fled those camps and never got there back), you know scenarios are often ready at hand to impress guys who are naive like you; unless you aren't one of Polisario agents! No hard feelings!

Posted by: samuel-lary | January 19, 2011 3:05 PM | Report abuse

I'm just going to ignore the personal attack and ask again to Ms. Rubin if it would be possible to speak about some of the things written in your blog. Both sides obviously have biased views regarding the conflict, and I will never suggest that the Polisario is a 100% perfect organization, but there are certain things that I can attest to that are absolutely not true. I read through your bio and share your views on human rights, American exceptionalism, and the failed peace process in the Middle East, and I think there are a number of aspects of this conflict that you will find very interesting if you dig a bit deeper.

Posted by: Tim47 | January 20, 2011 12:28 PM | Report abuse

To Tim47, the polisario camps are detention camps for thousands of moroccan sahraoui held against their will, of course at the camps they showed you what they want you to see and hear, under the control of the algerian intelligence services and the polisario militia nobody can freely criticize the polisario for fear of jail or even execution, for your info Mostafa ould salma the former polisario police chief 's father and brothers lives in Morocco like thousand of proud Moroccan sahraoui who can speak and move freely. I visited Moroccan sahara i can tell you the people are enjoying freedom, democracy and prosperity . in the last decade thousand of sahraouis escaped the camps and returned home in Morocco, among them dozens of high level members and founders of the polisario, the latest is Ahmed ould swilim former member and founder of polisario, he returned to Morocco and nominated the new ambassador of the kingdom of Morocco to Spain. on the other side you can't even find one moroccan sahraoui who left Morocco for the camps . And if you want to know the truth go and interview the peoples who escaped those camps . also why the algerians refuse access to the camps to human right organizations and census of the population in the camps by the UN ?. Why the algerians are obsessed so much per Morocco ? . In any event or conference algeria is there to attack morocco and spread its polisario propaganda , the algeria diplomacy around the world main focus is to attack Morocco , no wonder with all the petrodollars they buy the support from some leaders or organizations for a lost cause. In a country where 95% to 98% of GDP is from gas and oil export algeria had better spend this money to better the life of its own people, and if you visit algeria ask the citizen what they think of the polisario and their leaders, you will be chocked, the communist military dictatorship of algeria and its polisario want to turn the region to a terrorist heaven like afghanistan ,somalia or yemen .
Link :

Posted by: rizkkarim | January 20, 2011 10:57 PM | Report abuse

We ask for the truth and nothing but the truth, so thank you Jennifer Rubin. When I read your article, I can feel the professional journalism and the AngloSaxon pragmatism, unlike the Spanish media.

Posted by: ecobam2000 | January 22, 2011 7:17 AM | Report abuse

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