The one who saw is by no means like the one who heard. This is an Arabic proverb that perfectly applies to Mustapha Salma Ouled Sidi Moloud, an ex-Polisario leader and activist exiled in Mauritania for his support of Morocco’s autonomy plan, when he exposes the Polisario from within and reveals the unrevealed about the separatist organization.


In a long interview with the Moroccan Arabic news outlet Hespress, he revealed a number of facts that have hitherto been unknown; facts pertaining to civil society in the Tindouf Camps, the leadership of the Polisario, the population of the camps, and Algeria’s firm control of the Camps. But who is Mpstapha Salma?


According to his account, Mustapha Salma was kidnapped by Polisario militia at the age of eleven from Samara and taken together with his mother and siblings to the Tindouf Camps in 1979. He grew up in the Camps, was taught in the camps and worked in the camps where every single detail of a person’s life is controlled.


“You will not find a single person who chose for himself in the camps! We didn’t choose the camp where we live; it’s the organization (Polisario) that chooses where we live. We didn’t choose our schools; it’s the organization that decides the school where we study. We didn’t choose the specialization we study, we didn’t choose the jobs. All your life is controlled in the camps and, of course, this contradicts the doctrine of the Polisario which insists on self-determination,” said Mustapha Salma.


In the summer of 2010, Mustapha Salma visited the southern city of Samara for the first time in 31 years, and declared that the Autonomy Plan presented by Morocco in 2007 is “the ideal solution” to the conflict. On his way to the Tindouf camps, on September 21, he was kidnapped by the Polisario militia and imprisoned in the desert for 71 days. He now seeks to return to the camps to join his family, but is being denied access. He went on hunger strike since last May 20 in front of the High commissioner for refugees’ office in Nouakchott, Mauritania. As his health deteriorated, he was urgently taken to hospital on Tuesday, June 16.


In the Tindouf Camps, civil and political rights do not exist because the constitution of the so-called Sahraoui Republic denies people the right to set up civil and political associations. Article 30 of this constitution says that “freedom of speech is guaranteed” but article 31 says that “the right to establish associations and political parties is recognized and guaranteed after independence.”


Hence, in the five Camps of Tindouf, there isn’t a single association or organization outside the Polisario Front and its parallel branches. Mustapha Salma affirms that there are many people in the camps who are dissatisfied with the Polisario leadership, but because of the iron feast of Algeria and the Polisario, they cannot express themselves.


Mustapha Salma also talked about the infeasibility of the referendum, because the Polisario Front and Morocco cannot agree on “who is the Sahraoui” who can vote in the referendum. During the negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front over this issue, Morocco tried to expand the criteria for the census, but the Polisario Front always tended to limit these criteria. Thus, many Sahraoui tribes were excluded such as those from Guelmim, Tantan, Tarfaya, Ifni, etc. on the grounds that they are not disputed areas.


However, using the same logic, the Polisario leader Mohamed Ben Abdelaziz is out of the game and doesn’t have the right to vote because the tribe of Al-faqra, his native tribe, which belongs to the larger tribe of Rguibat, is part of the Algerian territory and is not a disputed area. According to the conditions he himself provided, Mohamed Ben Abdelaziz imust be excluded from the referendum because he is Algerian.