Andrew McConnell



Salek Labieb Basher

Age: 23
Friend of the Camel, pictured in the desert near Tifariti, in Polisario controlled Western Sahara.


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I was born in Smara in the occupied territory. In school we would fight with the Moroccan boys all the time. I had some Moroccan friends but they were boys who believed in a free Sahara. I heard on the radio one day that Moroccan soldiers had caught a lot of camels from across the wall and had taken them to Smara. Many of us went to see them and I felt bad when I saw women crying because the Moroccans were not giving them water or food and everyday one was dying. The camel is very important in our culture and is a friend of the Saharawi since long ago. The Moroccans did this to hurt the Saharawi people. After three months the camels were like skeletons so me and three friends decided to liberate them to stop this tragedy.

We watched the routine of the Moroccans for one week then one night jumped over the wall into the yard where the camels were being held. We caught the guard but he did not have the keys so we had to lift the gate ourselves. We then led the biggest camel out and the rest of the camels followed, there were maybe one hundred and fifty. We were seen by two Moroccan men and became worried that soldiers would soon be coming after us so we split up into four groups and agreed to meet the next day.

We wanted to send the camels back to the liberated territory so I took my group to a valley were the wall and the mines are washed away by the rains and sent the camels down into the valley so they could cross. I left them at 4am and returned to meet my friends. We stayed under the trees all the next day because we could hear a helicopter and vehicles. At night we meet bedouin who told us the Moroccans were searching for the people who freed the camels. It was then that we decided we must cross the wall the and go to the Polisario because if we were caught the Moroccans would put us in jail [for a long time].

We asked the bedouin to help us cross the wall and we walked for two days to a point were we could cross. We arrived at night, the wall is actually three walls and we crossed the first two easily but the at the third a Moroccan soldier came with a light and saw us. He shouted so we jumped the wall and barbed wire and ran for five or six minutes, we didn't think of the mines. We had very little water and no idea how to find the Polisario. We saw a bedouin man but he ran away when he saw us because he thought we were Moroccan. We waved our shirts and went to his home and he agreed to take us to the Polisario.

When we arrived in the camps everybody knew the story and we were like heros. We met the president and had a meal at his home. In the occupied territory all the news was about the children who had freed the camels. I was only seventeen at the time. Seventy camels made it across. The Moroccans sentenced us to ten years in jail (in our absence). I've been in the camps now for six years and I feel lucky I had the chance to come here. The first year I felt homeless, I missed my family but I found a lot of respect for the other Saharawis. I am a journalist now, I work and get to meet people from many countries. For me politics will not get us anything, we should return to war. I would be the first to take a Kalasnikov and go to the front to fight the occupation. I have not seen my family in six years, this is the hardest part. I hope I can see my parents again before they die….. because…(voice fades)… I hope…