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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 May 2007, 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK
In pictures: Africa's forgotten war

Polisario Front troops in Tifariti, Western Sahara (Copyright: Steve Franck)

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.

Moroccan wall of defence (Copyright: Steve Franck)

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.

Polisario Front soldiers in Tifariti, Western Sahara (Copyright: Steve Franck)

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.

Western Sahara amputee (Copyright: Steve Franck)

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.

Female refugees in the Smara camp, south-west Algeria

Meanwhile, refugees from the Western Sahara who fled the conflict have been subsisting in dusty camps in neighbouring Algeria, Polisario's main ally.

A child in the Western Sahara refugee camps in Algeria (Copyright: Steve Franck)

Polisario estimates there are 170,000 refugees who rely on international aid, distributed by the United Nations.

Penned camels in Smara refugee camp, south-west Algeria (Copyright: Steve Franck)

A basic diet is supplemented by camel meat and milk. Goats are also reared by Saharawi in the refugee camps.

Construction of mud house in Smara refugee camp, Algeria (Copyright: Steve Franck)

Life is difficult in the harsh desert environment. Severe floods in 2006 destroyed many of the makeshift houses of those already struggling to exist.

Saharawi refugee

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.

Young Saharawi refugees play football (Copyright: Steve Franck)

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. (

Regions and territories: Western Sahara
26 Apr 07 |  Country profiles

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