The leader of the Polisario Front fighting for the independence of Western Sahara, Mohamed Abdelaziz has died.
Mohamed Abdelaziz, 68, is reported to have passed away “following a long battle with cancer”.
Western Sahara: Polisario Front announces death of its leader, Mohamed Abdelaziz pic.twitter.com/BBAvSaGBN0— africanews (@africanews) May 31, 2016
The Sahrawi people will continue the fight and the qualities of Mohamed Abdelaziz will illuminate the way for the completion of the liberation of Western Sahara.
“It is a great loss for the Sahrawi people,” Mohamed Keddad,a Polisario official told AFP.
“He sacrificed his life for the liberation of Western Sahara. He embodied the wisdom, the sincerity and firm commitment to the liberation of Western Sahara,” he added.
A statement from the movement declared a 40-day mourning period, after which a new leader will be selected.Mohamed Abdelaziz ran the movement which was founded to defend the independence of the former Spanish colony with support from Algeria.
Morocco considers Western Sahara as part of its territory, which it has controlled since 1976.
“The Sahrawi people will continue the fight,” Mohamed Keddad reiterated, adding: “The qualities of Mohamed Abdelaziz will illuminate the way for the completion of the liberation of Western Sahara.”
In Algeria, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika declared 8 days of mourning. He opened the meeting of a Council of Ministers with a minute of silence in tribute to the independence leader.
The Chairperson of the African Union, Dr. Dlamini Zuma in a tweet expressed her condolence to his people.
On behalf of the AU, my deepest condolences to the family of the late President Mohamed Abdelaziz & the people & Gov't of #WesternSahara— Dr Dlamini Zuma (@DlaminiZuma) May 31, 2016
A UN plan for a referendum in that territory has been blocked since 1992 by Morocco, which advocates for broad autonomy under its sovereignty.
Who is Mohamed Abdelaziz
Mohamed Abdelaziz is a Reguibi, one of three Sahrawi tribes, a fraction of Fokra.
He had his primary and secondary education in southern Morocco, where his parents settled in mid 1950. His father was a former sub-officer of the Royal Moroccan Army.
In the late 1960s, he encountered the first Sahrawi nationalist militants in Rabat and Casablanca, who frequented the Moroccan universities.
Jointly with Mustapha Sayed El Ouali, Abdelaziz created the Polisario Front in May 1973 and became one of the main military leaders. He organized the first raids against the Spanish garrisons.
He himself took part in operations and continued to do so for a few years when he became the “number one” Sahrawi, in 1976.
Other historical leaders of the Polisario still alive include Mohamed Lamine Ould Ahmed, former Prime Minister of SADR, Brahim Ghali, former ambassador to Algeria, and Mohamed Lamine Bouhali, former defense minister.