36. Morocco/Western Sahara (1976-present)

Conflict Phase (February 27, 1976-September 6, 1991): The Provisional Sahrawi National Council of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saquia and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front) proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in the Western Sahara on February 27, 1976.  The Algerian government provided diplomatic assistance (diplomatic recognition) to the SADR on March 6, 1976.  The governments of Algeria and Libya provided military assistance to the Polisario Front.  The governments of Morocco and Mauritania denounced the declaration of independence, and agreed to divide the former Spanish Sahara into two sectors on April 14, 1976.  Polisario Front Secretary-General El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed was killed following a Polisario raid on Nouakchott, Mauritania on June 8, 1976.  Mahfoud Ali Beiba served as interim secretary-general of the Polisario Front from June 10 to August 30, 1976.  Mohammed Abdelazziz became the new secretary-general of the Polisario Front and President of the SADR on August 30, 1976.  Some 150,000 Moroccan troops were deployed in their sector of the Western Sahara (Laayoune, Boujdour, and Smara regions).  French military aircraft and troops intervened in support of Mauritania against the Polisario Front beginning in October 1977.  Some 100,000 Western Saharans fled as refugees to Algeria and Mauritania.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) established a mission to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees in Algeria and Mauritania.  Polisario Front rebels attacked Mauritanian troops on December 19, 1977, resulting in the deaths of 30 Mauritanian soldiers and 82 Polisario Front rebels.  The heads-of-state of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) established a six-member conciliation commission (Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania) on December 1, 1978.  The OAU conciliation commission appealed for a ceasefire on December 5, 1978.  The OAU heads-of-state appealed for a ceasefire on July 20, 1979.  Mauritania and the Polisario Front signed a ceasefire agreement in Algiers, Algeria on August 15, 1979, which ended Mauritania’s claim to territory in Western Sahara.  Some 2,000 Mauritanian troops were killed during the conflict.  Moroccan troops took control of the Mauritanian sector.  Heads of state of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) expressed support for self-determination and independence for the Saharan people on September 8, 1979.  Some 1,085 Polisario Front rebels and 121 Moroccan government soldiers were killed during a Polisario Front military offensive against Moroccan troops near Smara on October 5-7, 1979.  The Egyptian government provided military assistance to the Moroccan government beginning in November 1979.  Polisario Front rebels attacked a military base near Hagounia on January 2, 1980, resulting in the deaths of some 217 Moroccan soldiers.  The Cuban government provided diplomatic assistance (diplomatic recognition) to the SADR on January 21, 1980.  Polisario Front rebels and Moroccan troops clashed near Akka on January 26, 1980, resulting in the deaths of some 100 rebels and nine government soldiers.  Polisario rebels and Moroccan troops clashed near the town of Bojador on February 13, 1980, resulting in the deaths of 209 rebels and nine Moroccan soldiers.  Moroccan troops launched a military offensive against Polisario rebels in the Ouarkziz area on May 6-9, 1980, resulting in the deaths of some 235 rebels and 26 Moroccan soldiers.  The OAU conciliation commission was dissolved on December 31, 1980.  Some 5,000 Moroccans were killed between 1975 and 1980.  OAU heads-of-state appealed for a ceasefire on June 28, 1981, and established a seven-member implementation committee (Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania) to take “all necessary measures to guarantee the holding of a general and regular referendum on self-determination for the people of Western Sahara.”  Polisario Front rebels attacked a Moroccan military post in Guelta Zemmar on October 13, 1981, resulting in the deaths of some 200 government soldiers.  The government of Venezuela provided diplomatic assistance (diplomatic recognition) to the SADR on August 5, 1982.  Heads-of-state of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) appealed for negotiations between the Moroccan government and Polisario Front on March 12, 1983.  OAU heads-of-state appealed for negotiations between the government and Polisario Front on June 11, 1983.  The governments of Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and Sao Tome & Principe expressed support for Polisario Front on December 19, 1983.  The Mauritanian government provided diplomatic assistance (diplomatic recognition) to SADR on February 27, 1984.  President Hissen Habre of Chad expressed support for the Polisario Front on June 6, 1984.  The Libyan government ended its support of the Polisario Front in August 1984.  Zimbabwe provided diplomatic assistance (diplomatic recognition) to the SADR on September 27, 1984.  The United Nations (UN) and OAU established a joint-good offices commission on July 1, 1985.  The Moroccan government declared a unilateral ceasefire in October 1985.  India provided diplomatic assistance (diplomatic recognition) to the Polisario Front in October 1985.  Polisario Front rebels attacked Moroccan military bases in Tsibilirat on October 10, 1986, resulting in the deaths of 17 Moroccan soldiers.  The UN-OAU commission was disbanded on August 11, 1988.  UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar appointed Hector Gros Espiell of Uruguay as UN Special Representative for Western Sahara on October 19, 1988.  On December 27, 1988, King Hassan II agreed to begin negotiations with the Polisario Front , and met with representatives of the Polisario Front on January 4-5, 1989.  Polisario Front rebels launched a military offensive against Moroccan troops in Guelta Zemmour and Amgala on October 7, 1989.  The UN secretary-general appointed Johannes Manz of Switzerland as UN Special Representative for Western Sahara on January 19, 1990.  On April 29, 1991, the UN Security Council established the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to monitor the ceasefire agreement between the Moroccan government and Polisario and verify the reduction of Moroccan troops in Western Sahara.  MINURSO, which consisted of a maximum of six civilian police officers and 237 military personnel (military observers and troops) commanded by Major General Armand Roy of Canada, was deployed in the Western Sahara on September 1, 1991.  Moroccan and Polisario Front representatives agreed to a ceasefire that went into effect on September 6, 1991.  Some 10,000 individuals were killed, and some 200,000 individuals were displaced during the conflict.

Post-Conflict Phase (September 7, 1991-present):  The Algerian government ended military assistance to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saquia and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front) in February 1992. UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali appointed Sahabzada Yaqub-Khan of Pakistan as special representative for Western Sahara on March 25, 1992. The UN Security Council deployed the MINURSO-civilian police component consisting of 300 civilian police personnel from ten countries headed by Colonel Jurgen Friedrich Reimann of Germany between June 1993 and June 1996. The UN secretary-general appointed Erik Jensen of Malaysia as acting-special representative for Western Sahara in August 1995.  UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed James Baker of the US as UN Personal Envoy (mediator) for Western Sahara on March 17, 1997. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) assisted with the repatriation of 186 Moroccan prisoners-of-war on February 26, 2000.  The Indian government withdrew diplomatic recognition of the Polisario Front on June 26, 2000. The ICRC assisted with the repatriation of 201 Moroccan prisoners-of-war on December 14, 2000.  UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Alvaro de Soto of Peru as UN special representative to Western Sahara beginning on October 29, 2003.  James Baker resigned as UN Personal Envoy (mediator) on June 11, 2004.  Sahrawis demonstrated against the Moroccan government in El-Aaiún and other towns in Western Saharan beginning on May 21, 2005.  UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Peter van Walsum of the Netherlands as UN Personal Envoy (mediator) for Western Sahara on August 1, 2005.  UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Francesco Bastagli of Italy as UN Special Representative for Western Sahara on September 1, 2005.  One Sahrawi protester was killed by Moroccan police on October 30, 2005.  More than 100 Sahrawis were arrested by Moroccan police.  On December 14, 2015, fourteen Sahrawis were sentenced to prison terms by a Moroccan court in El-Aaiún.  UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Julian Harston of Britain as the UN Special Representative for Western Sahara on February 5, 2007.  The UN Security Council appealed to the parties to negotiate “in good faith and without preconditions” on April 30, 2007.  The 1st round of UN-mediated negotiations took place in Manhasset, New York on June 18-19, 2007.  The 2nd round of UN-mediated negotiations took placed in Manhasset, New York on August 10-11, 2007.  The 12th General Popular Congress (GPC) of the Polisario Front was held in Tifariti on December 14-21, 2007.  The 3rd round of UN-mediated negotiations took place in Manhasset, New York on January 7-9, 2008.  Legislative elections were held on February 17-19, 2008, and the Polisario Front won 53 out of 53 seats in the Sahrawi National Council (SNC).  Mahfoud Ali Beiba was re-elected as Speaker of the SNC on February 27, 2008.  The 4th round of UN-mediated negotiations took place in Manhasset, New York on March 16-18, 2008.  Peter van Walsum ended his efforts as UN Personal Envoy to Western Sahara on August 21, 2008.  UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon appointed Christopher Ross of the U.S. as UN Personal Envoy to Western Sahara on January 7, 2009.  Julian Harston, UN Special Representative to Western Sahara, ended his efforts in Western Sahara on February 28, 2009.  Representatives of Morocco and the Polisario Front held UN-sponsored talks in Duernstein, Austria on August 10-11, 2009.  Moroccan troops fired on a vehicle trying to enter the Gdaim Izik refugee camp on October 24, 2010, resulting in the death of one individual.  Representatives of Morocco and the Polisario Front held UN-mediated negotiations in Manhasset, New York on November 7-9, 2010.  Moroccan security personnel clashed with Western Saharan protesters at the Gdaim Izik refugee camp near Laayoune on November 8, 2010, resulting in the deaths of several civilians and ten Moroccan security personnel.  On November 16, 2010, the UN Security Council condemned the violence in Western Sahara.  On November 25, 2010, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the violence at the Gdaim Izik refugee camp and in El-Aaiún.  Representatives of Morocco and the Polisario Front held UN-mediated negotiated in Manhasset, New York on January 22-23, 2011.  Sahrawi protesters clashed with Moroccan police in Dakhla on February 26, 2011, resulting in injuries to at least 100 individuals.  The 13th General Popular Congress (GPC) of the Polisario Front was held in Tifariti on December 15-22, 2011.  Legislative elections were held on February 19-21, 2012, and the Polisario Front won 53 out of 53 seats in the SNC.  Representatives of Morocco and the Polisario Front held UN-mediated negotiations in Greentree, Long Island, New York on March 11-13, 2012.   On June 15, 2012, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber of Germany as UN Special Representative and Head of MINURSO.  On May 14, 2014, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Kim Bolduc of Canada as UN Special Representative and Head of MINURSO.  On April 11, 2017, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a resumption of negotiations between representatives of the Moroccan government and the Polisario Front.  On July 19, 2017, the Moroccan Court of Appeals sentenced 23 Sahrawis to prison terms for their involvement in the killing of 11 Moroccan security personnel in November 2010. On August 18, 2017, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed Horst Köhler of Germany as his Personal Envoy for Western Sahara.  On December 1, 2017, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed Colin Stewart of Canada as UN Special Representative and Head of MINURSO.  The UN peacekeeping mission, MINURSO, consisted of 27 peacekeeping soldiers, 214 military observers, and 71 international civilian staff members on December 31, 2016.  MINURSO fatalities included six peacekeeping soldiers, one civilian police personnel, one military observer, and three international civilian staff personnel as of June 30, 2017.  On April 2, 2018, the Moroccan government complained the UN Security Council about the deployment of Polisario Front rebels in the Western Sahara’s Al Mahbes area.  On May 1, 2018, the Moroccan government severed diplomatic relations with Iran after accusing Iran of providing military assistance (weapons and training) and economic assistance to the Polisario Front through the Lebanese group, Hezbollah.  On May 2, 2018, the Iranian government denied Morocco’s allegations.

[Sources: Africa Contemporary Record (ACR), 1979-1980, 1983-1984; Africa Diary, August 27-September 2, 1979, November 5-11, 1979, December 3-9, 1979, July 8-14, 1984, March 12-18, 1985; Africa Research Bulletin (ARB), December 1-31, 1979; Al Jazeera, November 8, 2010, January 10, 2013, June 5, 2015, April 11, 2017, July 19, 2017, April 2, 2018, May 1, 2018, May 2, 2018; Allock et al., 1992, 294-308; Associated Press (AP), May 27, 2003; Beigbeder, 1994, 190-197; British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), February 27, 2001, March 1, 2001, July 31, 2002, January 14, 2003, June 12, 2004, June 23, 2004, November 8, 2010, November 9, 2010; Brogan, 1992, 53-61; Clodfelter, 1992, 1005-1007; Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), October 14, 1986, October 15, 1986; International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) press release, March 2, 2000, December 14, 2000; Jessup, 1998, 465-467, 593-595; Keesing’s Record of World Events, February 13, 1981, May 14, 1982, April 1983; New York Times (NYT), January 10, 2008, November 8, 2010; Reuters, June 26, 2000, January 4, 2008, August 12, 2009, April 7, 2010, April 23, 2010, November 8, 2010, November 9, 2010, November 15, 2010, December 18, 2010, January 23, 2011, March 13, 2012, April 12, 2012, April 23, 2012, May 17, 2012, April 22, 2013, April 25, 2013, April 29, 2014; Tillema, 1991, 138-140; UN Chronicle, September 1990, September 1991, December 1991; United Nations (UN) press release, August 1, 2005, February 5, 2007, January 7, 2009; Voice of America (VOA), November 15, 2010; Washington Post (WP), November 16, 2010; Weisburd, 1997, 244-247.]