Paris-Dakar Rally Driver Hits Land Mine

A driver in the Paris-Dakar motor rally was injured by a land mine in Mauritania today, even as a Western Sahara rebel front lifted its threat to resume all-out war.

The Polisario Front, a rebel group which seeks independence for the vast territory Morocco annexed in 1975, had threatened military action if the race entered Western Sahara. An “urgent appeal” was issued Saturday for competitors to stay out.

But Morocco had warned the rebels that attempts to disrupt the race would be met with force.

Machine guns, silent for almost 10 years, had been mounted on jeeps in preparation for possible Polisario assaults against a long-established defensive wall hundreds of miles long and guarded the Moroccan army.

A Continuing Crisis

Still, a Portuguese driver in a support car lost his foot to a land mine when he apparently strayed too far from the course, said a U.N. spokesman.

The accident took place after the race crossed into Mauritania from its starting point in Samara, the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

The injured driver, Jose Eduardo Ribeiro, was airlifted by a United Nations helicopter to a hospital in Las Palmas, the Canary Islands, a U.N. spokesman said.

The Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, is littered with about 100,000 mines from Africa’s last colonial war, fought from 1975 to 1991 between Morocco and the Polisario Front.

The United Nations, which has been trying to conduct a referendum on Western Sahara’s fate, said Friday any hostilities would undermine U.N. efforts to resolve the crisis.

The 20-stage race from Paris to Dakar, Senegal, covers 6,658 miles before the finish Jan. 21.

ABCNEWS’ London bureau, Reuters, The Associated Press contributed to this report.