The possibility, however remote, that clashes could escalate into a full-out regional war may be the Polisario’s only hope of drawing attention to a conflict with few known casualties in a vast but forgotten corner of the desert.

For nearly 30 years a swath of North African desert about the size of Colorado — that sits on vast phosphate deposits, faces rich fishing grounds and is believed to have off-shore oil reserves — has existed in limbo, awaiting a referendum that was supposed to let the local Sahrawi people decide their future. Instead, as negotiations over who would be allowed to vote dragged on, Morocco tightened its control of the territory, which was a Spanish colony until 1975, AP reports.

Last year, the Polisario Front announced that it would no longer abide by the 1991 cease-fire that ended its 16-year guerilla war with Morocco.

The decision was fueled by frustration among younger Sahrawi — many of whom were born in refugee camps in Algeria, have never lived in their ancestral homeland, and are tired of waiting for the U.N.-promised referendum.

“Everybody is ready for war,” said Ahmed, who spent more than half of his 32 years in Cuba before returning to enlist for battle when the truce ended last year.

“We are fed up. The only thing that is going to bring our homeland back to us is this,” Ahmed said pointing at his AK-47 weapon, as he stood on the front line in Mahbas. The region, at the crossroads of Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria, is where most of the exchanges of fire take place.

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