The head of the Polisario Front National Guard, Adaj el Bendir, 65, was killed Tuesday by an airstrike, according to a statement released Wednesday by Sahara Press Service (SPS), the official agency of the Saharawi organization. The agency said that Bendir died “on the field of honor” when he was in “the liberated zone” of Rouss Irni, in Tifariti, a municipality located in the north of the Sahara and under the control of the Polisario. Bendir was hit by the shots from a drone when he was retreating after an incursion carried out against the area controlled by the Moroccan Army, according to Sahrawi sources informed this newspaper.
For their part, the Moroccan authorities remain silent, something that has been common since the Polisario Front decreed a state of war on November 13, 2020. On that day there was an exchange of fire between Moroccan Army soldiers and members of the Polisario Front in the demilitarized zone of Guerguerat, next to the border with Mauritania.
Facebook page FAR-Maroc (Royal Armed Forces), an unofficial site that usually has information from the Moroccan Army, said on Wednesday that the target of the attack was the General Secretary of the Polisario Front, Brahim Gali.
Saharawi sources indicated that it is not so difficult for a high command to die on the ground: “Our commands are usually on the front line. Nor would it be strange if one day Brahim Gali himself perished on the battlefield. On the contrary, it would be an honor for him. Our commanders know that the way to instill morale in the troops is to set an example and be there, on the front lines. But Gali was not at that time with El Bendir, that is a hoax spread by Morocco ”.
Adaj el Bendir joined the ranks of the Polisario Front in 1978 and participated in several battles during the war with Morocco (1976-1991). In June he was appointed commander of the National Guard, a position that would be equivalent in Spain to the headquarters of the Civil Guard. He was the father of seven children, six of them boys.
The Saharawi organization claims to have suffered four casualties so far. The first occurred on February 24 due to “enemy fire.” Later, two other troops were killed by an “accident on the ground”. In February, the Polisario Front claimed to have killed three soldiers and a Moroccan noncommissioned officer, an action before which Rabat was silent. For its part, the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), an organization that has at least 240 observers on the ground, has not issued any public statement on the latest events.
The Sahara conflict has been stalled since both parties signed the ceasefire in 1991. Tens of thousands of Sahrawis fled in 1976 in the direction of the desert and settled in various camps near the Algerian city of Tindouf. An entire generation has grown up in these 45 years in these moors, with hardly any other resources than those that come from Algeria and international solidarity.
Until last November few changes have taken place. That month, however, Morocco achieved its greatest diplomatic achievement when the Donald Trump administration recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, while Rabat began diplomatic relations with Israel.
Since then, Morocco has tried to get the European Union – and especially Spain – to initiate gestures in the same direction as Trump. So far no European country has done so, not even France, which is Rabat’s most powerful ally. Last March, the Moroccan Foreign Ministry suspended its contacts with the German embassy in Rabat. Through an internal statement, duly leaked to the press, the Moroccan government alleged “deep misunderstandings” to suspend its relations with the German embassy. Both Germany and Spain have supported the search for a solution accepted by both parties and under the mediation of the UN. Morocco, however, believes that this position of the European Union is a “comfort zone” of the Brussels must leave.
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council plans to address the conflict in Western Sahara next Wednesday, April 21. The situation becomes tense every year around this time, when the Council must decide whether to extend the mandate of its mission in the Sahara. The parties involved have not even managed to agree to agree on the appointment of a personal envoy of the UN Secretary General. The last envoy, former German President Horst Köhler, resigned in 2019 citing health reasons.
The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), a body that is only recognized as a government by the African Union, has requested a seat in the UN. It is Algeria that defends the interests of the Polisario Front and the SADR at the United Nations headquarters. Morocco always avoids recognizing the Saharawi organization and demands to negotiate directly with Algeria to resolve the conflict. While Algeria usually demands serious talks between Rabat and the Polisario Front.