If you ask the linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky, the Arab Spring did not begin in Tunisia in 2011—it began with the October 2010 protests in the town of Gdeim Izik, in Western Sahara's occupied territories. The former Spanish colony has been illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975. Its territory is divided in two by a 1,677-mile long sand wall and surrounded by some 7 million land mines.
The native Sahrawis, led by their independence movement the Polisario, are recognized by the International Court of Justice as the rightful owners of the land. However, Morocco hijacked Western Sahara's decolonization process from Spain in 1975, marching some 300,000 settlers into the territory. This triggered a 16-year war between Morocco and the Polisario, which forced more than 100,000 Sahrawis into exile across the border in Algeria. Technically, Western Sahara is still Spanish and remains Africa's last colony.
Whether adrift in refugee camps and dependent on aid or languishing under Moroccan rule, the Sahrawis are still fighting for their independence in an increasingly volatile region. Meanwhile, the UN has no mandate to monitor human rights in occupied Western Sahara. VICE News travels to Western Sahara's occupied and liberated territories, as well as the Polisario-run refugee camps in Algeria, to find out more about one of the world's least-reported conflicts.
In part two, VICE News heads to the Polisario-controlled liberated territories, an all but uninhabitable no-man's-land littered with land mines from the 16-year war. On the way, we pass a Sahrawi protest near the Moroccan Wall—also known as the berm or the wall of shame—that separates the Polisario-controlled Free Zone from the Moroccan-occupied territories.
Once we reach the heart of the liberated territories, Polisario Commander Ahmed Salem shows off one of the many pieces of art he has created and placed in the desert. Then he has his soldiers demonstrate their desert guerrilla tactics.