Since 1976 the Polisario Front, the government-in-exile of Saharawis fighting for self-determination of the Western Sahara, has been at war with Morocco.
The former Spanish colony was annexed by Morocco after Madrid left in 1975. It was later sealed off by a heavily guarded wall, stretching the length of the border with Algeria.
Since a UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991, Polisario soldiers, young and old, perform field exercises and scout Moroccan positions in the mine-ridden no man's land.
There are an estimated three million landmines and unexploded ordnance littering the former frontline. This man's arm was blown off when a mine detonated.
Meanwhile, refugees from the Western Sahara who fled the conflict have been subsisting in dusty camps in neighbouring Algeria, Polisario's main ally.
Polisario estimates there are 170,000 refugees who rely on international aid, distributed by the United Nations.
A basic diet is supplemented by camel meat and milk. Goats are also reared by Saharawi in the refugee camps.
Life is difficult in the harsh desert environment. Severe floods in 2006 destroyed many of the makeshift houses of those already struggling to exist.
Despite such hardships the refugee camps are well-organised: women's rights are widely respected, literacy is above 90%, and many children go on to study at universities abroad.
The two sides have agreed to hold direct talks for the first time in several years, creating perhaps the chance for a new generation to see their homeland. (www.stevefranck.com)