The Polisario Front has issued a warning against all "competitors, sponsors and participants" of the Africa Eco Rally, the sporting competition that is shaping up to replace the Dakar Rally. In a statement issued on Thursday, the government of the self-styled Sahrawi Arab Republic (SADR) threatened the organisation that it would "use all legitimate means" to "respond to any action aimed at undermining its sovereignty and territorial integrity".
The message comes after the publication of the route, confirmed in June by the organisation "in complicity with the Rabat authorities", denounces the SADR communiqué. The route aims to reach Mauritania via Morocco, and should therefore cross the vicinity of the Guerguerat border post, the separation wall erected in the middle of the desert where the ceasefire between the Moroccan army and the Polisario Front broke down in November 2020.
The 2022 edition of the Africa Eco Race is scheduled to start on the evening of 15 October and finish two weeks later, on the 30th. Competitors will start from Monaco and cross the finish line in Dakar, the Senegalese capital. In between, the riders will have a rest day in the city of Dakhla, and the race is projected to reach its climax around 25 October.
With just over a month to go before the start of the race, the organisers of the Africa Eco Race have not responded to the warnings of the Polisario Front. The competition, founded in 2008 with the aim of succeeding the Dakar Rally by the late Hubert Auriol, the French-Ethiopian ex-driver who was the first winner of the legendary competition, had to be suspended that same year in the face of threats from terrorist groups.
One year after its birth, in 2009, and in successive editions, the event has been able to take place with a certain degree of normality. Although not without its share of ups and downs. Political, community and social instability in the region has prevented the competition from taking place in a secure environment. The dangerousness of the route has not diminished, in addition to the new veiled threat from the Polisario Front. This year's edition, however, had already been postponed because of the COVID-19 restrictions.
The organisers of the Africa Eco Race assure that, throughout the course, they "work closely with the different ministries of each country" to guarantee security. "Even before the route is accepted, detailed maps of the route are submitted to the government for approval," say the organisers.
With permission, the organisers report on the schedule and "endeavour to meet with representatives from each region to adjust the route if necessary. Once the rally starts," they add, "the countries through which it crosses deploy their security personnel, police or army, to secure not only the camp, but also the roads."
The Africa Eco Race recalls that "in Morocco, the entry and exit procedures have never been as smooth as in 2020, thanks to the in-depth work carried out in total transparency with the authorities". That edition, ultimately the last as a result of the pandemic, ended months before the breakdown of the ceasefire in Guerguerat.
"The entire territory of the Saharawi Republic, including its land, sea and air spaces, remains a war zone where fighting continues," the statement said. "Consequently, the Government of the Saharawi Republic once again launches an urgent appeal to all countries of the world and to the public and private sectors to refrain from any activity," adds the group, which also holds the organisers responsible for the possible "consequences".
However, this is not the first time that the Polisario Front has threatened the organisation. In 2018, they tried to intercept the rally, but finally gave in after diplomatic pressure from the United Nations, as happened two years later, when a group of young people tried to block the border crossing with Mauritania in protest.