The Polisario movement, which is campaigning for independence in Western Sahara, began meeting on Friday 13 January for leadership talks.
The discussions come amid rising tensions be tween the hosts Algeria and Morocco which controls most of the disputed territory.
Polisario’s current head Brahim Ghali is expected to be re-elected to the top position and said: “The congress will be successful and put forward thanks to the struggle of the Sahrawi people and their fight against colonisation.”
More than 2,200 members of the movement and 370 foreign guests are attending the five-day congress deep in Algeria’s desert, at a Sahrawi refugee camp named after Dakhla, an Atlantic port city in what is Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara.
Sahrawi diplomat, Malainine Lakhal, said: “This is the first congress after more than thirty years of peace, in a context of war and the return of the armed state.
“So, already this is the biggest change in the situation in Western Sahara. And it is very normal that the Sahrawi congressmen participating in the 16th Congress will try and will have to take decisions related to this kind of situation.”
The conflict dates back to 1975, when colonial occupier Spain withdrew from Western Sahara, sparking a 15-year war between the Polisario and Morocco for control of the territory.
That ended in a 1991 ceasefire deal with the North African kingdom in control of 80 percent of the resource-rich desert territory and the Polisario clinging to hopes of a UN-supervised referendum on independence provided for in the deal.
The referendum has never taken place.
The truce broke down in November 2020 after Morocco sent troops to the far south of the Western Sahara to disperse Sahrawi protesters who were blocking the sole highway to Mauritania and the rest of Africa, which the Polisario says was built after 1991 in violation of the agreement.
A string of deadly incidents since has sparked fears of a return to full-blown conflict.
Since late 2020, the Polisario says it has been in “a war of legitimate defence” and has declared the entire Western Sahara a “war zone”.
AMN | Reporters | AFP.