Mauritanian forces re-occupied Ain ben Tili on Tuesday (17 February) on the border with the disputed Western (formerly Spanish) Sahara.
GV: Troops running and boarding trucks in front of Fort.
SV: Troops on trucks moving out.
CU: Officer talking on telephone.
SV: Troops lined up with rifles (2 shots)
GV: Fort with flag and soldiers on guard, and troops crossing desert in trucks. (3 shots)
SV: head marker and graves outside fort.
GV: Damaged buildings.
Initials RH/1645 PH/PK/AU/1710
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Background: Mauritanian forces re-occupied Ain ben Tili on Tuesday (17 February) on the border with the disputed Western (formerly Spanish) Sahara.
Polisario guerrillas claimed they over-ran desert outpost three weeks ago and overwhelmed a strong Mauritanian garrison.
Since the tripartite agreement under which Spain agreed to hand over the former colony of Spanish Sahara to Morocco and Mauritania, the Algerian backed Polisario Front has launched a guerrilla campaign to win independence for the disputed territory.
Moroccan and Algerian troops have repeatedly clashed in the Western Sahara and the Polisarios have taken on both Mauritanian and Moroccan forces. Despite efforts by the Untied Nations, Spain and several Arab states, there is no sign of a peaceful agreement. A major attraction of the Western Sahara is its rich phosphate deposits which provide a huge income from foreign currency earnings.
The fast moving campaign has been marked by claims and counter claims between the warring parties as distant desert outposts change hands and refugees flee in thousands from fighting. Algeria now estimates there are over 100 thousand people living in refugee camps.
Ain ben Tili is typical of the fighting terrain with its ancient fort once occupied by the Foreign Legion when Mauritania was a French territory. The empty desert lends itself to guerilla war and the Polisarios' hit-and-run-tactics.
According to reports, the Polisario guerrillas swept in with open jeeps catching the Mauritanian garrison off guard in a surprise attack. Having over-run the outpost they melted away into the desert claiming they had inflicted serious casualties. Mauritania has made no statement on that claim.
Signs of the clash were clearly visible to the re-occupying Mauritanian forces--freshly dug graves and shattered buildings showed fighting had taken place.