Cablegate: Polisario Restricts Activities Seen to Threaten


DE RUEHAS #1117/01 3500921
R 160921Z DEC 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L ALGIERS 001117


E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/15/2019


Classified By: Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Michael Bosshart.
Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: Embassy contacts with UNHCR and American
NGOs working in the Polisario camps near Tindouf say that
individual Sahrawis have been involved in smuggling
activities, but the Polisario "government" severely
punishes anyone caught trafficking persons or weapons that
could aid terrorists. Polisario also restricts the
refugees from accessing extremist websites in the camps.
All such activities are seen as harmful and a liability to
the Polisario's political goals. Extremists in the region
have issued threats against Westerners residing in the
camps of which the extremists have informed the Polisario.
They perceive the Sahrawi people as too close to the West
and not pious enough, in part, these contacts believe,
because Sahrawi religious leaders have encouraged Western
NGOs to participate in seminars on inter-faith dialogue and
women's issues. End Summary.

Polisario Reacts Harshly to Trafficking of Weapons, Persons
--------------------------------------------- --------------

2. (C) Political officers met in Algiers on December 7
with XXXXXXXXXXX church in Wisconsin that
participates in educational and gardening projects in the
Sahrawi refugee camps. XXXXXXXXXXX assessed that some
Algerians and Sahrawis participate in smuggling activities
in and around Tindouf and in Western Sahara. However, the
Algerian government and the Polisario Front respond harshly
to any involvement in the trafficking of weapons, persons,
or drugs. They view such activities as a major liability
to the Polisario's nationalist cause and demands for
Sahrawi self-determination. XXXXXXXXXXX said that sometime
in the past year, the Algerian government detected three or
four 4x4 vehicles that it believed were transporting
smuggled goods from Mauritania to an AQIM stronghold south
of Tindouf. With the Polisario's approval, two Algerian
attack helicopters fired on the vehicles to send a message
to Sahrawis and Algerians not to engage in similar
dealings. He told of a Spanish man who paid some Sahrawis
to smuggle his 14 year old "girlfriend" out of the camps
via Mauritania, and said that when the Sahrawi government
found out, everyone involved was severely punished and
thrown in a "dark cell." He assessed that the Polisario is
fairly good at controlling the territory it administers but
that, like Algeria, it cannot monitor every inch of such a
vast land.

3. (C) XXXXXXXXXXX said that Algeria and the Polisario turn
a blind eye to the smuggling of products such as cigarettes
and diesel and that the eastern part of Tindouf is known as
"Kandahar" because of the large black market there for
smuggled goods. He said that he sees many Algerians
participate in the trade. Algerian registered cars are
often seen driving off the road, probably transporting such
goods. (Note: Residents and workers in the camps have
Sahrawi-registered plates.) The Algerian government is
building more roads in the area and will soon require
people to use specific routes to travel to Tindouf
(Algeria), Mauritania, or other places, in order to stem
the transportation of smuggled goods. He said that it is
hard to know where the items originate. Locals view the
borders as artificial, and there is a lot of corruption and
smuggling on both sides of the Algerian-Moroccan border.
Echeverria commented that the Sahrawis look at the Algerian
army officials who control checkpoints on the roads near
the camps with respect, but see the Algerian gendarmes that
monitor the border with Morocco as corrupt and incompetent.

Polisario Increases Security Measures Amidst Extremists'
--------------------------------------------- ----------

4. (C) The American NGO workers told Poloff that Islamic
extremists have issued threats against Westerners residing
in the camps of which the extremists have informed the
Polisario. The extremists appear to believe the Sahrawis
cater to the West and are not pious enough. They are
incensed by the fact that many American NGO workers are
connected with U.S. churches and for several years have
participated in annual interfaith dialogue seminars at the
invitation of Muslim religious leaders in the camps.

Nevertheless, they said there have been no incidents
against Westerners in the camps, despite the fact that
extremist bases are not far away. The Sahrawi are very
protective of the foreign workers and at times have
supplied extra security to the foreigners traveling outside
the camps. (Note: The NGO contacts could provide no
addition information on the location or identity of the

5. (C) XXXXXXXXXXX, for security reasons and
because of informants for the Polisario and Morocco on both
sides of the berm, the Polisario carefully vets any
newcomers to the camps to ensure that they are not a risk
to others or to the Polisario's political goals. New
settlers are required by the Polisario to stay in a safe
house for approximately two weeks until their identities
and backgrounds are verified. There is a particular fear
that young men are prone to political or religious
corruption. The Embassy's American contacts explained when
a refugee family hosted some Western NGO workers in their
home, a Sahrawi man whom the family did not know came to
visit the workers, at which point the family became highly
suspicious and protective, and began inquiring around the
camp about the man's background.

6. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX and the American NGO workers agreed that
the poor living conditions in the camps and the lack of
opportunities there could make Sahrawi youth susceptible to
extremist recruitment or trafficking activities. However,
they did not personally know individuals involved in those
activities. The American NGO workers believed there is a
limited amount of private drug use in the camps.
Echeverria explained there is an internet cafe in each of
the four refugee camps at which the refugees are allowed to
view almost anything on the internet, including pornography
and Moroccan press reports, but not extremist websites. He
said that anyone caught doing so was taken aside for
questioning and then closely monitored.

Many Sahrawi Seeking Independence

7. (C) XXXXXXXXXXX said that Sahrawis who receive their
education elsewhere continue to return to the camps because
they believe the Sahrawis should have their own country.
Echeverria and the American NGO workers confirmed that they
had heard of Sahrawi youth threatening to resume violence
against Morocco. They said that some youth see war as the
only option, but that older Sahrawi who have lived through
the war with Morocco during the late 1970s and 1980s
support a peaceful solution. Echeverria commented that
many of the refugees have relatives in Spain and could
obtain residency permits there but choose not to, although
some cannot afford to go. Some emigrate to
Moroccan-controlled areas of Western Sahara by crossing the
berm or the Algerian-Moroccan border. The Polisario
encourages this resettlement probably to strengthen
resistance against Morocco, and for intelligence purposes.

8. (C) XXXXXXXXXXX said he hears from the refugees that the
Sahrawis and Moroccan settlers in the Moroccan-controlled
area of Western Sahara want independence because they
believe the territory contains natural resources and oppose
human rights abuses by the Moroccan government. He
commented that the Moroccan settlers tend to come from
poorer backgrounds and resettle in Western Sahara to take
advantage of government subsidies of fuel and other goods.
He also noted that if the Polisario were to acquiesce and
accept less than a popular referendum with the option of
independence, the Polisario would lose the support of the
Sahrawi refugees, who would choose to remain in the camps.

Movement and Conditions of Refugees

9. (C) The Algerian government allows the Polisario to
govern the refugee camps and even requires visitors on
incoming flights to Tindouf to complete Sahrawi
"government" customs' cards, which are then passed on to
Algerian officials. The Polisario monitors the checkpoints
in and out of the camps, while the Algerian military
monitors the checkpoints farther outside the camps and near
Tindouf. Sahrawi refugees need identification cards to
travel outside of the camps. XXXXXXXXXXXX commented that the
Algerian military appears to be under orders not to treat
the Sahrawi harshly: he saw a Sahrawi without
identification shouting at an Algerian army officer who
would not let the refugee through the checkpoint and
watched as the military officer calmly walked away.
Sahrawi can easily obtain a permit at the Polisario liaison

office in Tindouf to travel north to places like Algiers,
but the permit does not allow them to work. Foreigners
cannot move throughout the area easily and are closely
monitored in Tindouf by Algerian security services. On
military issues, Echeverria said that the Polisario has
some mobile multiple rocket launchers that appeared old and
were probably provided by Algeria. He said that Polisario
military service now lasts only two to three months, less
than in the past.

10. (C) XXXXXXXXXXX commented that the Sahrawis typically
show visitors the camps that are the best organized and
with the best living conditions. Smara and Awserd are the
better camps, while Dakhla has some of the worst
conditions. The Dakhla hospital has only two doctors, two
hours of electricity per day, and two land cruisers that
serve as ambulances and a variety of other purposes.
XXXXXXXXXXXX said the refugees do not receive enough food aid
and suffer health issues due to eating the same narrow diet
of donated food for decades. He said the "27 February"
settlement has good electricity, which is needed to run
some of the humanitarian institutions located there, but
that the four refugee camps lack continuous electricity.

Sahrawis Encourage Social Activism by Westerners
--------------------------------------------- ---

11. (C) The American NGO workers confirmed (as previously
reported reftel) that both Sahrawi men and women attain
high levels of education studying abroad, and that Sahrawi
women play a role, albeit a minority one, in the Sahrawi
leadership. However, they also explained that many Sahrawi
women suffer from a poor self-image. Several years ago,
some Muslim religious leaders in the camps called on
American NGO workers to educate the Sahrawi women on eating
disorders. Some have used bleaching products to lighten
their skin, which they consider more attractive. Sahrawi
leaders have asked the NGO workers to help establish and
provide resources for a Sahrawi-run women's center to
educate them on issues such as eating disorders and sexual

12. (C) Beginning several years ago, Sahrawi religious
leaders asked the American workers to participate in annual
seminars on inter-faith dialogue; this year the Sahrawi
proposed to discuss the perception of Jesus in Christianity
and Islam. These American contacts acknowledged that some
Algerian and Polisario support for the seminars is probably
politically motivated, to secure Western political and NGO
support for the camps and Polisario.

Land Route Unlikely in Short Term

13. (C) XXXXXXXXXXX said that the Polisario and Morocco
agreed to open a land route for the Sahrawis between
Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara and the refugee camps as
a UN-sponsored confidence building measure. The UN bought
eleven new vehicles in preparation, but there has been no
progress on opening the route, mostly because the UN
peacekeeping force MINURSO will need time - perhaps years -
to demine the area. He also said that Morocco wants a land
route across the Moroccan-Algerian border in order to
increase trade, but the Polisario prefers a land route into
Western Sahara to connect the Sahrawis living on either
side of the berm.


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