afrol News, 5 January - Cars, trucks and motorbikes on their rally towards the Senegalese capital, Dakar, are currently crossing the Moroccan-occupied territory of Western Sahara, this year with the blessing of the exiled Saharawi government, Polisario. Also Alejandro Roque from the Canary Islands, representing afrol News, has successfully entered the desert territory.
Mr Roque and his co-pilot Jesús Navarro - both from the Spanish Canary Islands just off Western Sahara's coast - started well on the Dakar rally, which this year set off on 1 January in Barcelona. On 3 January, Mr Roque reported to afrol News that he was "finally in Africa" after arriving northern Morocco. Heading southwards in their Toyota Land Cruiser, the afrol News team reached Western Sahara yesterday evening.
One of the destinations on the troublesome route to Dakar that Mr Roque looked most forward to was the Saharawi town of Smara, where endless Sahara caravans had passed before him. This very night, the team rested in the historic Saharawi town, now under firm control of the Moroccan army.
Mr Roque and afrol News already in November investigated whether the controversial passing through Western Sahara had been authorised by exiled Saharawi authorities. Two years ago, the Paris-Dakar rally had been tainted by the French organisers' lack of diplomacy, as they only had applied Moroccan authorities for permission to pass through the Saharawi territory. Polisario naturally protested the move.
This year's Spanish organisers of the rally, however, in early November had contacted the Polisario, exiled in Algerian refugee camps, for prior authorisation to cross the Moroccan-occupied territory. The authorisation was given "after many contacts" undertaken by the organisers of the sports event, according to a statement issued by Saharawi authorities today.
These contacts had culminated in "the visit, last December, of Mr Vivian, President of the Organisation Sport Amaury (ASO), which represents the party in charge of the organisation of the competition", added the text. Thus, Saharawi authorities "accepted the petition of the organisers asking for the authorisation of passage across the Saharawi territories, and confirmed their availability to help in the success of this stage of the competition", the statement said.
The Saharawi government confirmed that most of the rally's 230 trail bikes, 165 cars and 70 trucks were welcome to reach the "occupied town of Smara" in the northern part of Western Sahara yesterday. Today, the competitors are heading towards the Mauritanian border, thus avoiding the central and southern parts of Western Sahara, where mines still can be found.
The cooperation of the Polisario indeed is necessary for the successful organisation of the rally, following the route from Smara to Mauritania. In the deserted hinterland between the Saharawi and Mauritanian border, Polisario controls a land strip, which connects the camps in Algeria with the Atlantic coast.
Less than 100 kilometres after Smara, the rally's competitors meet the "wall of shame" constructed by the Moroccan army all along the eastern part of Western Sahara. Behind that heavily guarded wall, Polisario is in control, in the so-called "liberated areas". Just a few kilometres after that, drivers will enter Mauritania.
Here however, beyond the political complications of the Saharawi war, the real challenge for the many vehicles will start. In Mauritania, the real Sahara desert presents the most difficult driving conditions that have wrecked many cars and bikes in earlier races. Mr Roque tells afrol News that, now "the real desert stage start," the part he and other drivers have looked forward to in their long preparations for the rally.
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