History : When an uprising took place in the Tindouf camps in 1988

In 1988, a social unrest has taken place in the Tindouf Camps. A group of officials protested against the leadership of the front and the oppressive method it adopted. Several Sahrawis were arrested, tortured and abducted following the events. Flash back.

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When an uprising took place in the Tindouf camps in 1988./Ph. DR

In December 1978, the death of Houari Boumediene, Chairman of the Revolutionary Council and second President of neighboring Algeria has led to a major crisis in the country. From 1978 to 1992, Algeria was struggling with several events that marked the political scene in the region. The violent clashes in the October riots and the armed forces that controlled the government have surely affected Algeria's first ally in the region, i.e. the Tindouf camps and the Polisario's leadership.

In fact, by the end of the 80's the Front’s leadership has adopted a very restrictive method that led, in addition to the situation in the region, to tension inside the camps. Those who read headlines in the 80's surely remember the events of 1988 in the Tindouf Camps when the opposition raised Morocco’s flags protesting against oppression.

What happened

A document issued by the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, a think tank dealing with issues related to terrorism and security matters describes how tense the situation was in the camps. «The leadership of the Front was quite naturally on the lookout for any dispute and the expression of any somewhat dissenting opinion could only be the result of a plot aiming to undermine the authority of the leaders or a manipulation by enemy ‘services'», explains the report.

According to the same document, the Front was keen to secure itself from its enemies by adopting a very strict policy. For example «to assure themselves of the good behaviour and loyalty of the people who were allowed to leave these zones, no member of the Front can leave the camps with all the members of his family».

«These tensions were to lead to a veritable uprising in the camps, in 1988, which was harshly repressed by a leadership that refused any dialog.»

Reportedly, several officials who protested against oppression were arrested, ousted and tortured.

The 1988 events

In his account, Hametti Rabani explained to the same source that «in 1988, I was Minister for Justice. In the Front of repression, I refused to be silent and I belonged to a group of ten leaders who visited Mohammed Abdelaziz [the President of the SADR and Secretary-General of the Polisario Front] to ask him to change his methods».

Rabani insisted that he «was punished and discharged from my duties. From Minister for Justice, I became Political Commissar of the fourth military area. But our manoeuvre finally bore fruit. About two years later, I was recalled and asked to take charge of a think tank on the forms and structures that the Polisario should have, and in 1995, I am became Minister for Justice again».

For Mustapha Bouh, the former Political Commissar of the armies, the situation worsened in the camps by 1987. He told the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center that at that time «the divergences really started to develop». He added saying that «in 1988, there were serious troubles in the camps, which were repressed with brutality .Things had to come to an end…»

An uprising inside the camps 

For his part, Mahjoub Salik, one of the founders of the Polisario front, and the current coordinator of the opposition line of the movement's leadership, told Yabiladi that : «What happened in 1988 is a popular uprising against the domination and ingenuity of the leadership of the Executive Committee, which was a brutal Stalinist regime, Sahrawis have been kidnapped, tortured and assassinated.»

Salik stressed that at the beginning of what he calls an «Intifada» more than 10 members of the Political Bureau and the government resigned. They were subjected to imprisonment, torture and house arrest. Prompting the people to revolt and uprising through angry mass demonstrations led by women.

«The army intervened using weapons to control the camps, declaring a state of maximum emergency. Sahrawis were not allowed to move from one neighborhood to the other within the same camp,» he said. According to Salik, «more than 100 young men and women have been arrested.»

«The Polisario was on the verge of collapsing, it was the beginning of the end in the camps».

«The uprising forced the leadership to release the abductees who were severely tortured, forcing thousands of citizens to leave the camps towards Morocco, Mauritania and Europe,» he said.

Salik explained that the rise of the Martyr's line was «a logical result of the domination and arrogance of this corrupt leadership supported by Algeria.»

Speaking of torture, Amnesty International, a London-based non-governmental organization focused on human rights, issued a report in 2005 denouncing the riots in Tindouf in 1988. «Since 1981, Amnesty International has also expressed its concern about the abuses made in the refugee camps under the responsibility of the authorities of the Polisario in the area of Tindouf, in the south of Algeria», stated the same source.

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