Tuesday, January 31

What about Western Sahara? Five keys to understanding conflict


  • The territorial dispute between Morocco and the Polisario Front over the vast desert lands of the Sahara dates back to the 1970s.

Located on the northwest coast of Africa, the Occidental Sahara It is a former Spanish colony that was annexed by Morocco in 1975. Since then, the dispute between Morocco and the Polisario Front for control of that territory has never ceased.

A vast uninhabited but coveted territory

With 266,000 square kilometersis relatively large, but in its inhospitable only slightly more than half a million people live on earth, mostly tribes berbers. Despite this, Western Sahara has valuable nature reserves and is rich in phosphates and fish. In 1883 it was occupied by Spain and almost a century later, in 1973, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia al-Hamra and Río de Oro (Polisario Front) was born to claim its independence. A year later, in the throes of the Franco regime, Spain proposed a independence referendum but Morocco did not want to lose the opportunity to acquire a territory that it had historically claimed and in 1975 it fought the Polisario Front and annexed part of the territory through a march of 350,000 civilians unarmed soldiers that King Hassan II sent to the Sahara to force the Spanish Army to leave in 1975. What later became known as the Green March.

With the withdrawal of the Spanish Army, the territory remained in the hands of Mauritania and Morocco. A year later, in 1976, the Polisario Front founded the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR)and they happened during 16 years guerrilla conflicts continuously between the Polisario Front and the neighboring kingdom. During those years, the Polisario Front signed peace in 1979 with Mauritania, and with Morocco, a ceasefire in 1991, the date on which the UN was created and created the Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (Minurso). Since then, the Polisario has not stopped claiming that referendum that seems more and more distant and unattainable.

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Clashes between Morocco and the Polisario

The last clash between Morocco and the Polisario took place last November 2020 when Moroccan forces attacked the Guerguerat border crossing. A month later, donald trump, still at the head of the US Government, recognized Moroccan sovereignty in Western Sahara. Other countries, such as France, support granting an autonomous status to the region within Moroccan sovereignty.

Spanish change of position

Since Spain abandoned this territory in 1975 —it was province 53— it first defended a self-determination referendum, in line with the international position, and later, when this solution lost strength over the years, a negotiated solution between the parties backed by the UN . But never the proposal for the autonomy plan defended by Rabat, which did have the support of the US, France and recently from Germanywhich has also consummated in recent months the change of its traditional position.

In the letter sent by Sánchez to the Alaouite monarch, our country undertakes to act “with the absolute transparency“, as it corresponds to a great friend and ally”. This means that Spain will stop hiding its public position and will help Morocco to achieve sovereignty over the Sahara and this territory to have its own status in the country.


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