In the Western Sahara, where polisario guerrillas are fighting Morocco for independence, violent battles have been raging for the past four weeks.
GV & SV Group of Spanish fishermen taken prisoner by the Polisario Front in Western Sahara (3 shots)
GV Captured Moroccan prisoners and armoured vehicles
SV PAN Moroccan prisoners of war lined up and other sitting on ground (4 shots)
GV Captured armoured vehicles including tank
SV PAN Wreckage of Mirage jet (3 shots)
SV PAN Military badges and money confiscated from prisoners of war
GV Parachutes and helmets taken from shot down aircraft and other captured equipment (2 shots)
GV & SV Captured tanks (2 shots)
GVs Various armoured vehicles and artillery (2 shots)
SV Wreckage of plane
GV Captured tanks (2 shots)
GU Captured ground to air equipment with automatic weapons in back-ground (3 shots)
SV PAN Mortars and army trucks captured
GV Tank moving along (2 shots)
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Background: In the Western Sahara, where polisario guerrillas are fighting Morocco for independence, violent battles have been raging for the past four weeks. Polisario claim it has thwarted a Moroccan attempt to regain full control of the southwestern tip of Morocco. It says 10,000 Moroccan troops have been forced to retreat in the extreme southeast, leaving behind hundreds of dead. About 100 prisoners were said to have been taken. But it's not only Moroccan soldiers who've been captured recently by the Western Sahara guerrillas.
SYNOPSIS: The Polisario is now holding over a hundred fishermen, including forty Spaniards, accused of fishing illegally in Western Sahara's territorial waters, Fifteen Portuguese trawlermen have been released after negotiation. But Spain has refused to talk with the Polisario to free its men.
The Polisario Front recently took a party of foreign newsmen to the battle area on the border between Morocco and the Western Sahara. Moroccan prisoners and a large display of captured armoured vehicles, weapons and equipment under lined the decisive victory claimed by the guerrillas at Ras El-Khanfra, 80 kilometres south of the coastal town of Tan Tan. The Polisarios say they will fight on until they achieve independence.
The journalists were shown the charred remains of a pilot whose Mirage jet was shot down in september. At this time, Morocco launched an offensive aimed at preventing further infiltration by the guerrilla forces. They also tired to re-establish road links with El Aidun, the capital of Western Sahara. A Polisario leader said the Moroccan army's most elite troops were still taking part in this operation. They claimed the Moroccans recently had been supplied with weapons of European make, including rocket launchers.
The Polisario war for an independent homeland in Western Sahara entered its fifth year in March. Their enemy, the Moroccans, are better equipped and have more troops. But the Polisarios have become expert at guerrilla warfare. Their well-armed and efficient army fights with a strong nationalist fervour. And it has an extraordinary knowledge of this desert region. The guerrillas claim to hold the initiative, not only in western Sahara, but over much of southern Morocco itself.
Last week (11 October), King Hassan of Morocco gave arms to civilians of three provinces on its border with Algeria which supplies the Polisario with military bases and arms. The civilians received the weapons from the King himself after an attack by Polisario guerrillas on a frontier outpost in undisputed territory. A Moroccan communique said about 500 Polisarios took part in the attack, but were drive off towards their main bases in the Tindouf area of Algeria.
The Polisario Secretary-General, Mohammed Abdelaziz, has repeatedly urged Morocco to end its opposition to a separate Western Sahara republic. He wants the Moroccan government to open direct negotiation with his desert army. There is still no military victory for either side in sight. It's four years since Spain gave up its former colony to Morocco and Mauritania. Since then, the balance of power in the phosphate-rich desert region has undergone a significant change.