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Day 19: Tfariti

Tfariti, Western Sahara. 
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The whale-nose rock that houses one of the Polisario's military headquarters. One of their second-hand Russian tanks charges about on manoeuvres.
Michael Palin - SaharaThough the Moroccans and the Polisario have observed a ceasefire for the last eleven years, they have not become friends, and as both sides have troops in positions near to the wall, we have to approach with the utmost caution, accompanied now by two armed pick-up trucks. Then it's a scramble up a slope dazzlingly rich in fossilised fish, plants and other evidence of the old once-fertile Sahara. From a ridge at the top we look down over a mile-wide no-man's-land that separates the two sides. There's no question of going any further, as the Moroccans have mined the border.

I realise that this wall, an abomination to the Polisario, keeping them, as it does, from their own land, also defines them and inspires them and, in their eyes, legitimises their struggle. There can be no question of a contest between equals. The Polisario army numbers around 20,000 men, but despite the ceasefire it's kept in readiness. To see them at work we are driven from the wall to the HQ of the Second Army District, in a cleverly camouflaged position protected by monumental rocks, strangely weathered and smoothed, like a hillside of Henry Moores.

In the lee of these boulders are mud-brick huts, with corrugated metal roofs, and the occasional Russian-built tank pulled in close for safety. On a parade ground, marked by small stones laid out in neat rows and painted white, the flag of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic flutters above three more tanks and four pick-ups fitted with anti-aircraft guns. A massive curved rock, resembling the head of a whale, juts out on a rise overlooking the parade ground, and beneath it a narrow entrance leads into the belly of the whale, a deep cave lined with carpets and cushions which is the nerve centre of this particular army post.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 19
  • Country/sea: Western Sahara
  • Place: Tfariti
  • Book page no: 71

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