Chapter 9: Western Sahara

On This Chapter


The colonial background


Independence versus incorporation

Searching for solutions

Colonialism, Moroccan style

Issues of state viability

Alternative political formulas



The life cycle of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR or Western Sahara) reveals striking similarities with Palestine’s contested statehood. Neither seceded from an existing state but each declared unilateral independence. Both entities’ claims to statehood received wide international recognition and their respective liberation movements enjoyed international legitimacy. However, in neither case has titular recognition been translated into full-fledged membership of the world community. Palestine and Western Sahara furthermore displayed limited domestic sovereignty due to foreign occupation of their territories, with the SADR in an even weaker position than Palestine. Morocco, which has occupied and formally annexed Western Sahara, rejected the entity’s right of statehood out of hand, whereas Israel has at least accepted the idea of a Palestinian state. Another parallel is that the SADR’s government was based in exile, like the Palestinian leadership before 1994. The two entities have also had to contend with large segments of their populations living as refugees in adjacent countries. Compared with Palestine, the fate of Western Sahara has all a along been a peripheral international issue. In fact, the international community seemed to acquiesce in the status quo in Western Sahara. By denying Western Sahara its right of self-determination, Morocco has broken a fundamental principle of international law yet has gone virtually scot-free.1 For the people of Western Sahara, life in international limbo has been solitary, poor, nasty, brutish – and long.

The colonial background

Located in northwest Africa, Western Sahara covers an area of 252,120 km2 and borders on the Atlantic Ocean in the west, Morocco in the north, Mauritania in the south and east, and Algeria in the northeast.2 Western Sahara’s subjugation to European colonialism began in 1884 when the largest part of the territory came under Spanish rule, a move ratified by the metropolitan powers at the Berlin Conference of 1884–5. The entity’s borders were demarcated in a series of agreements concluded between Spain and France (the other major colonial power in the region) in 1900, 1904 and 1912. As elsewhere in Africa, these lines did not coincide with geographic or ethnic boundaries.3 It was only in the 1930s that Spain eventually managed to gain effective control of the sprawling territory and its restive nomadic tribes. Thereafter Western Sahara was governed as part of Spanish West Africa (together with Spanish South Morocco and Ifni) until 1958, when it became a Spanish African province (Provincia de Sahara) incorporated into metropolitan Spain.4 In 1962 Madrid divided Western Sahara into two parts for administrative purposes: the northern area, comprising 31 per cent of the land (Saguia el-Hamra), and the southern area (Rio de Oro) extending over the remaining 69 per cent of the surface area. In 1963 Spain at long last created a formal administration in the territory, but without seeking to establish a substantial presence across Western Sahara. Ten years later the Spanish population in the province stood at only about 35,000, half of them soldiers and the remainder including civilian administrators and technicians.5

By the late 1950s two important developments had taken place that continue to shape the fate of Western Sahara to this day. The Sahrawis had mounted their first major challenge to Spanish colonial rule in 1957–8, a revolt that was only put down by a joint Franco-Spanish military operation. Inspired by the outbreak of the Algerian war of liberation in 1954 and the achievement of independence by Tunisia and Morocco in 1956, the Sahrawi people showed that they too desired self-determination.6 A national consciousness overriding the Sahrawis’ traditional political loyalties to the family, tribe and Islam was emerging.7 The other development concerned Morocco’s irredentist designs on neighbouring territories. No sooner had independence been achieved when Rabat affirmed its commitment to a ‘Greater Morocco’, an ideology of territorial expansion conceived by Moroccan nationalists in the early 1950s. Encompassing also parts of Algeria and Mali, the whole of Mauritania and all of Western Sahara, Greater Morocco corresponded with the boundaries of the Almoravid dynasty of the 11th and 12th centuries.8 The claim to Western Sahara was also based on ‘historical ties of a politicalreligious nature to the Sahrawi population’, predating Spain’s colonization of the territory. Given this sense of entitlement, the incorporation of Western Sahara became ‘an unquestioned and integral part of Moroccan nationalist ideology’.9 Morocco realized in due course that its territorial designs on other independent African states were doomed, and quietly abandoned its claim to part of Mali, recognized Mauritania in 1969 and in 1972 withdrew its demands on territory under Algerian control. Rabat would not renounce its claims to Western Sahara, though; in fact, compromising its other territorial ambitions was largely done to reinforce its title to Western Sahara.10

From the start of the 1960s Spain became increasingly exposed to the pressures of decolonization at the UN. Recall that the world body had in 1960 adopted the celebrated Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (resolution 1514), which prescribed self-determination for all non-self-governing territories based on respect for the territorial integrity of each territory destined for independence.11 In similar vein the General Assembly in December 1965 passed a resolution that for the first time requested Spain to take immediate steps to decolonize Western Sahara. A year later the Assembly resolved that Spain should arrange, under UN auspices, a referendum in Western Sahara so that the inhabitants could exercise their right of self-determination. In annual resolutions between 1966 and 1974 the General Assembly sought to keep an uncooperative Madrid’s feet to the fire of decolonization.12 Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania jointly and repeatedly declared their support for the Sahrawis’ right of self-determination and indeed independence. These solemn commitments by Morocco and Mauritania were soon forgotten by the two countries. Spain, meanwhile, began submitting to international pressure by informing the UN in 1974 that a referendum on independence would be held in Western Sahara the following year.13

Spain also encountered indigenous opposition to its rule over Western Sahara. To challenge the colonial masters, the Saharan Liberation Movement (MLS, from its French initials) was founded in 1968. At first the movement opted for a gradualist, peaceful approach aimed at attaining autonomy and equal rights of citizenship for the people of Western Sahara. The Spanish authorities’ violent suppression of an MLS demonstration in 1970 radicalized the movement, which then turned to armed struggle as a means of obtaining full independence from Spain. A number of other liberation movements were also formed in Western Sahara between 1969 and 1975, the most important being the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguia el-Hamra y Río de Oro (Polisario Front). Already at its first national congress in May 1973 Polisario affirmed its goal of independent statehood based on a free and fair referendum. The means to the end were the mobilization of the masses combined with armed struggle against the Spanish authorities. During its first two years the Polisario Front was based in Mauritania, which provided sanctuary and material support for the movement’s fighters in their raids against Spanish targets in Western Sahara.14

As Spain was preparing to exit Western Sahara, Morocco and Mauritania requested an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the status of Western Sahara – presumably in the belief that the Court would endorse their claims to the territory. Pending the ICJ’s verdict, the UN sent a mission of inquiry to the region to study the situation first-hand. Reporting in October 1975, the mission highlighted ‘the profound political wakening of the population’ of Western Sahara, and ‘an overwhelming consensus’ among them in favour of independence and against integration with any neighbouring state.15 Shortly thereafter the ICJ dealt Morocco and Mauritania a further blow by ruling that there was no evidence of ‘any tie of territorial sovereignty’ between Western Sahara and Morocco or Mauritania. ‘Thus the Court has not found legal ties of such a nature as might affect the application of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) in the decolonization of Western Sahara and, in particular, of the principle of self-determination through the free and genuine expression of the will of the peoples of the Territory’.16

Denied legal sanction for the incorporation of Western Sahara, Morocco turned to mass action to reinforce its territorial claims. On the very day the Court delivered its negative verdict, Morocco’s King Hassan II announced that tens of thousands of Moroccans would march on the disputed territory. The so-called Green March took place in early November, with up to 350,000 people peacefully invading Western Saharan soil for several days. While this coup de théâtre earned the monarch much-needed political capital at home (there had been bouts of political instability, including two coup attempts), the world community was not impressed by the stunt. The UN Security Council denounced the march and called on Morocco to withdraw all the invaders from Western Sahara.17

The next step in the unfolding drama was decidedly conspiratorial. On 14 November 1975 Spain, Morocco and Mauritania concluded the secret Madrid Accord under which Spain would relinquish Western Sahara to its two partners and a tripartite transitional administration (representing the three signatories) would be established in the territory until Spain’s final withdrawal. Needless to say, the inhabitants of Western Sahara were not consulted at all. The Spaniards duly departed at the end of February 1976. It is instructive that Spain announced it was only ceding administrative authority to Morocco and Mauritania, not transferring sovereignty; the central issue over Western Sahara’s final status thus remained unresolved.18

Independence versus incorporation

Morocco and Mauritania were determined to gain more than administrative responsibility in Western Sahara in the wake of Spain’s exit: they wanted to dismember the desert territory and incorporate its parts into their own states. Their stalking horse was the legislative assembly of Western Sahara, called the djemaa. In an extraordinary meeting of the djemaa convened by Morocco on 26 February 1976, the 65 of the 102 members present voted unanimously to ratify the earlier tripartite agreement and to approve the integration of Western Sahara into Morocco and Mauritania. Through the djemaa’s vote, these two states maintained, the Sahrawis had exercised their right of self-determination, expressing a preference for incorporation into the neighbouring countries over independence. Rejecting the assembly’s decision, Polisario questioned the composition and legitimacy of the djemaa. The movement could also point to the lack of international recognition of the parcelling out of Western Sahara and to the two rapacious states’ patent disregard for UN General Assembly resolution 3458B adopted in December 1975. That resolution called for Western Saharan self-determination through consultations facilitated by a UN representative.19

The Polisario Front did not wait for such consultations. On 27 February 1976 it proclaimed the establishment of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. The founding fathers described the new entity as ‘a free, independent, sovereign State governed by a national democratic system, of a unionist orientation, progressive and of Islamic faith’. In a typical secessionist idiom, the declaration of independence asserted that the ‘peaceful people’ of Western Sahara were ‘victims of an attempt at extermination, a veritable genocide’, presumably plotted by Morocco and Mauritania. Reference was also made to the Sahrawi people’s ‘liberation struggle’ against ‘the colonialism of the neighbour “brothers”’.20 The SADR was to be ruled by an eight-man Polisario government-in-exile (based in Tindouf, southwest Algeria), led by the movement’s Secretary-General who served as President of the SADR. Although legislative authority was vested in the National Assembly, the seat of real power was the General Congress of the Polisario Front, which elected the members of the Assembly.21

Polisario’s unilateral declaration of independence constituted a forceful protest against the emasculation of Western Sahara as a political entity entitled to self-determination. And by creating an exiled government, Polisario hoped to strengthen its position in confronting Morocco and Mauritania on the world stage and soliciting foreign support for the Sahrawi cause. That backing was prompt and extensive. Ten states, nine African plus North Korea, afforded the SADR de jure recognition in the course of 1976. By the end of 1980 no less than 43 countries had done so; in 1983 the tally stood at 54 and reached 67 in 1987. The single largest group of supporters of Western Saharan statehood were from Africa, while Latin America and Asia were also well represented. Great powers and other Western states were conspicuous by their absence.22 Those recognizing the SADR saw its advent as another act of decolonization, albeit effected through the unconventional and widely questioned means of a unilateral declaration of independence. The SADR’s backers evidently believed that self-proclaimed statehood was legitimate in this instance.

Despite the founding of the SADR and Polisario’s control over a sizeable chunk of Western Sahara, the formal takeover of the territory by Mauritania and Morocco prompted an exodus of Sahrawis in the mid-1970s. Encouraged by Polisario, up to half the population of Western Sahara may have sought refuge in camps around Tindouf to escape from new rulers they feared would be no more benevolent than the departed Spaniards. The Polisario Front managed to exert authority over the refugees and also had considerable success in directing Sahrawi nationalist sentiment towards acquiring an own state.23 That consciousness drew on a separate identity that was far from an artificial construct: ‘their nomadism, as well as their clothing, diet, dialect, poetry, pigmentation, and facial features, clearly distinguish them from their Moroccan counterparts’.24 The Sahrawi people’s direct ancestors came from Yemen and Saudi Arabia in the 16th century and their Hassaniya language was a classical form of Arabic distinguishable from that used in neighbouring countries.25 There was, in other words, a distinct ‘self’ that qualified for self-determination.26

Within weeks of occupying Western Sahara, Morocco and Mauritania formally demarcated the line of partition that formed their new border in the Sahara; the larger portion, containing the bulk of known mineral reserves, was allocated to Morocco.27 For Polisario this boundary was no more than an illegitimate line in the sand. The armed struggle that the movement had begun against the Spanish colonialists was simply continued against the new occupiers of Western Sahara. Relying on Algeria and Libya for sanctuary and material support, Polisario managed to increase their fighting strength from roughly 3,000 men in early 1976 to between 8,000 and 10,000 towards the end of 1978. Moving unhindered across large tracts of Western Sahara, Polisario combatants staged several effective attacks against occupying forces and also struck targets inside Morocco and Mauritania (including the latter’s capital Nouakchott).28 In the late ‘seventies Polisario exerted effective control over substantive parts of Western Sahara, confining the foreign occupiers to major centres of population (including the capital El Ayoun) and strategic points like phosphate mines.29

The ever rising military and economic costs of occupation were a factor in the military’s seizure of power in Mauritania in July 1978. The new rulers soon accepted a ceasefire offered by Polisario, withdrew Mauritanian forces from active participation in the war and renounced territorial claims to Western Sahara. Just over a year later Mauritania relinquished its portion of Western Sahara, which Morocco promptly annexed.30 For the Moroccans the ‘decolonization’ of Western Sahara was now complete: ‘territories and populations torn away by colonial usurpation’ had been reintegrated into the Moroccan state.31 For King Hassan II the full ‘recovery’ of Western Sahara was a major political triumph and a timely boost to the legitimacy of the Moroccan monarchy.32 For Polisario the exit of the Mauritanians opened new space for military operations further north in Western Sahara. By the early 1980s, at the height of their military prowess, Polisario forces came close to liberating Western Sahara from Moroccan occupation. However, massive infusions of American and French arms enabled Morocco to turn the tide of war.33

Although the UN General Assembly deplored Morocco’s unilateral act of annexation and urged it to withdraw from Western Sahara,34 Rabat moved rapidly to consolidate control over its new acquisition. An ambitious development programme was rolled out over the entire Western Sahara, which incidentally expanded Morocco’s territory by nearly one-third but increased its total population only fractionally. Over the next 30 years Morocco spent over $2.4 billion on basic infrastructure, including, airports, harbours, roads, water and electricity.35 A highly controversial aspect of the annexation was the settlement of large numbers of Moroccan nationals in Western Sahara, reducing the Sahrawis to a minority in their own country. By 2007 Moroccan settlers outnumbered Sahrawis by at least two to one.36 The orchestrated influx of Moroccan colonists – like Israeli settlers in the West Bank – may well be a transgression of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibited states from resettling their civilian populations in territories acquired by military force.37

Morocco also relied heavily on security measures to strengthen its hold over Western Sahara. Initially it deployed 40,000 troops in its segment of occupied Western Sahara. In the 1980s the number increased to 160,000. More than 90,000 of them guarded the 2,500 km long defensive wall – otherwise known as the berm – which Morocco constructed between 1980 and 1987. It cut Western Sahara in two: the one side, consisting of some 85 per cent of the territory, was under Moroccan control, while Polisario controlled the other. With its forts, ditches, minefields, razor wire and electronic surveillance devices, the barrier has kept Polisario fighters out of the bulk of Western Sahara and away from most of the fertile land, phosphate mines, oil reserves and the coastline with its fishing grounds.38

Searching for solutions

The Organization of African Unity was compelled to tackle the prickly issue of Western Sahara, not least because a pair of its member states had brazenly violated two of the continental body’s most sacrosanct principles: the right of colonial peoples to self-determination and independence, and the acceptance of borders drawn by the colonial powers. A Committee of Wise Men (five heads of state) was appointed in 1978 to investigate the matter. The following year the panel recommended an immediate ceasefire in Western Sahara and the holding of an internationally supervised referendum to allow the people of the territory to exercise their right of self-determination. The ballot should offer them a choice between independence and the status quo. An OAU summit in July 1979 endorsed the Wise Men’s proposals. The referendum plan came to naught due to Morocco’s opposition and deep divisions within the OAU over Western Sahara. This discord was also evident in the slim majority of member states supporting the SADR’s admission to the OAU as a full member in 1980. When the SADR took its seat at a ministerial meeting in 1981, the resultant schism plunged the OAU into a severe crisis.39 In protest against the SADR’s admission to the OAU, Morocco withdrew from the organization in 1984 (and has not joined the successor African Union either).40 The OAU nonetheless partnered the UN in 1985 in a diplomatic initiative to resolve the dispute over Western Sahara. Their endeavours paved the way for the adoption of a major settlement proposal in 1988.41

The UN, it will be recalled, had first taken up the issue of Western Sahara in 1965 when the General Assembly called on Spain to decolonize the territory. In December 1975, hard on the heels of the ICJ’s advisory opinion on the future status of Western Sahara, the General Assembly by resolution 3458A reaffirmed ‘the inalienable right’ of the people of the non-self-governing territory to self-determination and requested the Secretary-General to arrange for the supervision ‘of the act of self-determination’. In November 1979 the Assembly not merely acknowledged the Sahrawis’ inalienable right of ‘self-determination and independence’, but also ‘the legitimacy of their struggle to secure the enjoyment of that right’. Polisario was for the first time in a UN resolution recognized as ‘the representative of the people of Western Sahara’, which should participate fully in the search for a political solution. The same resolution deplored the worsening of the situation caused by Morocco’s continued presence in Western Sahara and again urged an end to its occupation.42 Similar strongly worded resolutions were passed by the General Assembly in subsequent years. In November 1990, for instance, the Assembly reiterated that ‘the question of Western Sahara is a question of decolonization which remains to be completed on the basis of the exercise by the people of Western Sahara of their inalienable right to self-determination and independence’.43 This unequivocal position of course contradicted Morocco’s insistence that the ‘question’ of Western Sahara had been resolved following its incorporation of the entire territory in 1979, and that Western Sahara ‘is and will remain Moroccan’.44

Despite these fundamental differences, Morocco and the Polisario Front in 1991 accepted the Settlement Plan for Western Sahara proposed by the UN three years earlier. It entailed a transitional period marked by a ceasefire, repatriation of refugees, exchange of prisoners and a referendum on the future of the territory.45 The United Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), a small multinational military-cum-civilian unit, was deployed in the territory’s capital in April 1991. MINURSO’s mandate, issued by the Security Council, included monitoring the ceasefire concluded between Morocco and Polisario in 1991, checking on the confinement of the two sides’ troops to designated locations, and organizing a free and fair referendum.46

While the ceasefire has been respected by both parties following the deployment of MINURSO, discord over the qualifications for voter eligibility thwarted MINURSO’s arrangements for a referendum and so paralysed the settlement process. In 1997 the UN Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy to Western Sahara, former American Secretary of State James Baker, brokered a series of agreements between the Polisario Front and Morocco to revive the referendum process. Again the parties stumbled over the composition of the voters’ roll. The central point in contention was the eligibility of Moroccan settlers in Western Sahara. In 2000, when the vote was scheduled to take place, there was a new obstacle: Morocco renounced its earlier support for a referendum on independence. Made by King Hassan II, the pledge died with the monarch in 1999. His successor, King Mohammed VI, flatly rejected independence for Western Sahara and hence any referendum featuring this option.47 The UN seemed unwilling to confront Rabat over this reversal with its far-reaching consequences for the entire settlement drive.

The next round in the search for peace followed in 2001 when Baker presented his Framework Agreement on the Status of Western Sahara, known as Baker Plan I. Since the blueprint provided for a five-year period of autonomy for Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty but did not guarantee a referendum and omitted any reference to independence, Polisario rejected it out of hand.48 Baker Plan II, styled the United Nations Peace Plan for SelfDetermination of the People of Western Sahara, was released in 2003. Not only did it emphasize that Western Sahara’s final status would be determined by referendum, but the plan offered three referendum options: independence, autonomy or integration with Morocco. Should no option attract more than 50 per cent of the votes in the first round of balloting, a second round would be held on the two options that had gained most votes.49 The 2003 plan also provided for a transitional government composed of the Western Sahara Authority (WSA) that would deal with local affairs, while foreign relations, national security and external defence were among the matters over which Morocco would have ‘exclusive competence’. The scope of Morocco’s proposed authority was predictably problematic, especially when considering that Morocco was also entrusted with ‘the preservation of territorial integrity against secessionist attempts’.50 Polisario’s advocacy of independence for Western Sahara could conceivably be interpreted by Rabat as a secessionist bid that would violate Morocco’s territorial integrity (since Western Sahara was supposedly an integral part of the Kingdom of Morocco and independence for the territory was out of the question). By the same token Morocco rejected any referendum that included independence as an option. This time Polisario accepted Baker’s proposal. Having failed to bridge the divide between the two parties, Baker resigned as the SecretaryGeneral’s Personal Envoy in 2004.51

All the while the General Assembly kept on extending MINURSO’s mandate. Despite the frustrating lack of progress in resolving the conflict over Western Sahara, the UN was not prepared to leave the protagonists to their own devices. According to Peter van Walsum, the Secretary-General’s second Personal Envoy to Western Sahara, ‘there was a consensus in the [Security] Council that any solution to the problem of Western Sahara had to be found in the framework, or under the auspices, of the United Nations’. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was firm on the parameters within which the world body could assist the search for a solution: ‘The United Nations could not endorse a plan that excluded a genuine referendum while claiming to provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara’.52

Colonialism, Moroccan style

On the ground, meanwhile, Morocco was literally digging in for the long haul in Western Sahara; allowing the Sahrawi people a free choice of political destination was clearly not a factor in its planning. Rabat’s intention was to create an irreversible reality that would compel the international community to acknowledge Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara as a fait accompli.53 Reference has already been made to the settlement of large numbers of Moroccan colonists in Western Sahara. To accelerate political integration, the four so-called Saharan provinces were represented in the Moroccan Parliament and also staged local elections under Rabat’s control.54 At another level we should take note of the development of ‘a dense network of social and economic bonds’ that absorbed Western Sahara into Morocco and lifted the area out of the destitution of the Spanish colonial era. Cherkaoui attributed these advances to Morocco’s ‘effective policy of affirmative action’ in the occupied territory.55

As for the territory’s oil deposits, Morocco had no qualms about assuming ownership by issuing licences to prospectors. The first permits were awarded to Kerr McGee of the US and French company TotalFinaElf to undertake oil exploration off the coast of Western Sahara. In response to a legal challenge that Polisario had lodged at the UN over these permits, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs in 2002 issued an opinion on the matter. Oil licences were not illegal per se, but ‘if further exploration and exploitation activities were to proceed in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara they would be in violation of the principles of international law applicable to mineral resource activities in non-self-governing territories’.56 Morocco’s predictable response was that all its efforts in the territory were to the benefit of the inhabitants. The Polisario Front, by contrast, called on oil companies to suspend their activities in Western Sahara – which TotalFinaElf, among others, eventually did. Polisario itself concluded an agreement with Fusion Oil of Australia to study (at its own expense) geological and geophysical data on ‘Sahrawi territorial waters’.57 The movement judged that, as the legitimate ruler of the SADR, it had the authority to enter into such an arrangement.

Although Morocco has been patently in breach of repeated UN resolutions on the disposition of Western Sahara, it was not alone in swimming against the international tide. France, with its strong historical, cultural and economic ties with Morocco, has been the kingdom’s closest ally in the conflict over Western Sahara; Paris has long supported Moroccan jurisdiction over the territory. Even Spain has in recent years inclined to Morocco’s position, opposing a referendum and independence for Western Sahara. While the US has avoided legitimizing Morocco’s occupation and incorporation of Western Sahara, Washington has been keen not to offend a strategic partner in the Arab world, both during the Cold War and in the present era of global terrorism and Islamic extremism. Indeed, in 2004 the US awarded Morocco ‘major non-NATO ally status’ and a free trade agreement.58 Algeria, by contrast, has all along been Polisario’s principal foreign backer, both materially and diplomatically.59 Although Algeria and Polisario were on the right side of international law, their position has not been buttressed by the clout of major powers prepared to enforce UN resolutions in the face of Moroccan intransigence.

In 2005 Rabat had to contend with a new challenge when the indigenous population of Western Sahara embarked on a wave of demonstrations against Morocco’s ongoing occupation and the attendant abuse of human rights. Sahrawis even claimed to have launched an intifada in their quest for self-determination. Some of the protests turned violent as demonstrators and Moroccan security forces clashed. In the midst of the unrest Polisario threatened to resume its armed struggle, which had been suspended since 1991.60 The growing militancy was an expression of the Sahrawis’ popular frustrations about living as a territorially fragmented population for three decades, experiencing violent repression in their homeland, suffering socioeconomic marginalization due to the ‘Moroccanization’ of Western Sahara, and being largely ignored by an indifferent world community. These feelings have in turn fed a resurgence of Sahrawi nationalism, both in the occupied territory and in refugee camps in Algeria.61 The ongoing presence of some 230 MINURSO personnel in Western Sahara has evidently done little if anything to break the cycle of Sahrawi resistance and Moroccan repression, which has continued into 2008.62

Issues of state viability

Turning to the future, we need to consider a question frequently asked of wannabe states: could Western Sahara become a viable independent state? None other than James Baker said in 2002 that a ‘Sahrawi state within the old Spanish colony would be viable and would contribute to the stability of the Maghreb’.63 The territory met some basic requirements of statehood. Its population was larger than that of many UN member states: a 2003 estimate put the figure at 261,794, with an additional 165,000 Sahrawis living in refugee camps abroad.64 Geographically Western Sahara was slightly larger than the United Kingdom and had direct access to the Atlantic Ocean. Its extensive territory was not particularly inviting, though: it consisted of desert terrain, mostly vast rocky plains rather than sand; rainfall was extremely scarce and there was only one river of significance; there was precious little arable land, and the temperature fluctuated between scorching summer days and bitterly cold winter nights. What brightened this forbidding picture is that Western Sahara boasted large deposits of high-grade phosphate. The full exploitation of the phosphate reserves could earn Western Sahara one of the highest per capita incomes in Africa, given the smallness of its population. Western Sahara already produced oil, with further extensive exploration underway. Its other natural resources included iron ore, titanium oxide and vanadium, as well as rich fishing grounds off the Atlantic coast.65

What also counted in favor of statehood is that the Polisario Front seemed to enjoy general support among Sahrawis in Western Sahara and among the refugee population; it was the principal if not sole liberation movement of the indigenous people of the territory and recognized as such by the UN and the OAU/AU.66 Although exiled, the SADR’s Polisario government has existed for over 30 years. The institutions of the Sahrawi Republic and Polisario were, of course, interwoven. The SADR constitution of 1999 formalized the connection: ‘Until the achievement of national sovereignty, the Polisario Front remains the political framework that groups and politically mobilises the Sahrawis, to express their aspirations and their legitimate right to self-determination and independence’.67 The constitution furthermore decreed that the secretary-general of the movement should also serve as the SADR’s head of state. That dual position has been held by Mohammed Abdelaziz since the proclamation of the state in 1976. The Sahrawi National Council, the legislature, would be formed after a Polisario congress. The institutions of the state were extended into society through a network of committees, congresses and councils. The SADR administered the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria by means of a hierarchy of provinces, communes and districts. In these refugee communities the SADR took care of such basic functions as health and education.68

Polisario maintained a political presence in Western Sahara too. To underline this point, the movement in October 2003 for the first time held its regular congress in the ‘liberated territories’ of the SADR.69 In February 2008 the 32nd anniversary of the proclamation of the Sahrawi Republic was celebrated in Tifarti, the SADR’s provisional capital located in the ‘liberated territories’. (The official capital, El Ayoun, remained under Moroccan control.) At the same time the newly elected Sahrawi National Council was inaugurated in Tifarti.70

Another conventional criterion of statehood that the SADR met, was a capacity to engage in foreign relations. The entity’s statehood has been recognized by some 80 confirmed states, with African countries prominent among them. The SADR was a member of the OAU and at the founding of the AU President Abdelaziz was elected as one of the five vice-presidents of the new continental body.71 The OAU’s embrace of the SADR was in sharp contrast to the organization’s rejection of Biafra’s secession in the 1960s and that of Somaliland more recently. The OAU evidently placed Western Sahara in the same category as the ‘salt-water’ colonialism of old; as a former Spanish colony, Western Sahara was as entitled to sovereign independence as other former African colonies of European powers.72

The Sahrawi Republic maintained diplomatic relations with a large number of countries, mostly in the Global South, including Uganda, Tanzania, Mauritius, Algeria, Angola, Libya, Malawi, South Africa and Venezuela. It also enjoyed semi-official representation in Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Spain and the Nordic countries, among others. Abdelaziz, widely accepted abroad as the legitimate leader of the colonized Sahrawi people, was experienced in personal diplomacy. He and other SADR representatives have recently visited states ranging from Spain, Italy and Mexico to Senegal and Mauritania.73 The SADR furthermore had a support network of nongovernmental organizations abroad, including the National Algerian Committee of Solidarity with the Sahrawi People, the Task Force of the European Coordination of Support for the Sahrawi People, Western Sahara Resource Watch and the Australia Western Sahara Association. The latter two were in the business of naming and shaming companies that imported phosphate and other minerals from occupied Western Sahara. Various foreign political groupings (like the European United Left) and human rights bodies abroad (for instance Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International) occasionally voiced support for the Sahrawi cause and protested against Morocco’s human rights abuses in Western Sahara.74

On the debit side, critics have suggested that the Polisario Front had links with international terrorism75 and that the movement’s refugee camps in Algeria were potential recruiting areas for al-Qaeda and other militant Islamic groups. An independent Sahrawi state under Polisario leadership, the American ambassador to Morocco claimed in March 2007, would not only be weak but ‘would likely morph into a terrorist-controlled one’.76 Polisario leaders have also been accused of profiting from illegal trafficking.77 There was no hard evidence to back up allegations about the Polisario Front’s terrorist connections, flirtation with Islamic extremism or involvement in organized crime. Polisario was in fact a secular nationalist movement subscribing to a reasonably liberal strain of Islam. Its current leadership also tended to be pro-Western.78

Alternative political formulas

The Polisario Front’s first prize has remained a sovereign Sahrawi state recognized by the world community. This position was reaffirmed in the settlement plan Polisario submitted to the UN Secretary-General in April 2007. The movement reiterated its long-standing call for ‘the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara’ through a referendum, insisting that this was the sole solution to the conflict. The Front based its plan on international law, existing Security Council resolutions and Polisario’s previous agreements with Morocco. Despite the zero-sum proposal, Polisario declared its commitment to reaching a negotiated, mutually acceptable settlement. The olive branch held out to Rabat was a pledge to co-operate with Morocco in the economic, social and security domains. The Polisario Front even offered to guarantee Moroccan strategic and economic interests in an independent Sahrawi state79 – concessions that may point to a form of conditional independence. One can also assume that Polisario would be comfortable with an internationally supervised transition to independence, as previous UN settlement schemes had in fact proposed.

Morocco will still have no truck with the idea of a sovereign Sahrawi state. Rabat preferred the continuation of the status quo, meaning a Western Sahara that has been fully absorbed into the Kingdom of Morocco and has thus ceased to exist as a separate political entity. This outcome was, of course, wholly anathema to Polisario. Since ‘total victory is impossible and total defeat is unthinkable’ for either side,80 we need to explore compromise solutions between the two mutually exclusive options of independence and incorporation.

The two principal compromise outcomes are sharing Western Sahara or splitting it up.81 Fragmentation, which has been rejected by both sides, would involve another partitioning of the territory, this time between Morocco and Polisario. The latter’s share would become an independent state (a mini-SADR) while the other portion remained part and parcel of Morocco.82 Sharing the territory could take different forms: Western Sahara could be accorded special regional status within Morocco, but without government autonomy; Morocco could be turned into a symmetrical federation that would provide each region, Western Sahara included, with its own elected government; Western Sahara could receive special autonomy within Morocco; or an independent (or semi-independent) Western Sahara could enter into a confederal arrangement with Morocco. Given the practical constraints, special autonomy may be the most plausible of the four alternatives based on sharing power and territory. It envisaged a quasiindependent Western Sahara with its own locally elected government responsible for domestic affairs and Morocco taking care of foreign relations and defence. This so-called ‘third way’ solution of course resembled the settlement plan presented by Baker in 2001.83 More importantly, Morocco’s latest settlement formula – presented to the UN chief in April 2007 – provided for special autonomy for Western Sahara.

Morocco’s ‘final political solution’ consisted of a reasonably detailed ‘autonomy proposal for the Sahara, within the framework of the Kingdom’s sovereignty and national unity’. The government of the envisaged Sahara Autonomous Region would comprise a locally elected legislature and an executive authority elected by the legislature. Sahrawi inhabitants would enjoy majority representation in the regional parliament, while long-time non-Sahrawi residents would be given ‘credible legislative representation’.

All residents of the area would at the same time continue to elect representatives to the national legislature in Rabat. The head of government or chief executive would be elected by parliament, invested by the King of Morocco and serve as the representative of the Moroccan state in the region. He would be accountable to the regional parliament. A separate judiciary in the shape of a regional high court would have the final power of interpretation of the region’s legislation (but without prejudicing the authority of the Moroccan Supreme Court and Constitutional Council). The regional government would in turn enjoy exclusive control of local administration, police, economic development, trade, investment, tourism, agriculture, taxation, infrastructure, health, education, cultural affairs and the environment. (Under its exclusive powers the regional government may open trade offices abroad). The central government in Rabat would retain exclusive jurisdiction over the ‘attributes of sovereignty’ (notably the flag, national anthem and currency); matters flowing from the monarch’s constitutional and religious prerogatives; national security; the Kingdom’s juridical order, and external relations. Where matters of foreign relations had a direct bearing on the prerogatives of the Sahara Region, the central state would exercise its responsibilities in consultation with the regional government. The region may, in consultation with the national government, enter into cooperative relations with foreign regions. Powers not specifically entrusted to the region or the centre would be exercised on the basis of subsidiarity (that is, common agreement). Finally, Rabat’s proposal stipulated that the ‘autonomy statute’ would be negotiated and thereafter submitted to the ‘populations concerned’ in a free referendum to allow them to exercise their right of self-determination.84

The Moroccans have presented their autonomy plan in the same zero-sum fashion as Polisario had done with their settlement proposal. In November 2007 the monarch vowed that ‘Morocco, its king and its people, will never accept anything other than autonomy [for Western Sahara], within the framework of a single and unified state’.85 This was not mere rhetoric: popular opinion in Morocco, manipulated by the monarchy and other political elites, viewed Western Sahara as an inviolable part of the Moroccan state and was dead-set against independence for the territory.86 ‘It’s a real national red line’, in the words of a Moroccan diplomat.87 Herein lay possibly the greatest obstacle to Moroccan withdrawal from Western Sahara.88 It is then understandable that Rabat’s settlement plan provided for a referendum on autonomy only; Morocco will not entertain any suggestion of a referendum on independence for Western Sahara. By precluding the option of independence, the electorate would of course not be offered a real choice between alternatives and Morocco’s referendum could hardly constitute a legitimate act of self-determination. Here it is worth recalling the UN’s 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law, which identified three modes of implementing the right of self-determination: the creation of an independent state, free association or integration with an independent state, or any other political status freely determined by the people concerned.

Other objections have also been raised against the Moroccan proposal. The entire autonomy plan was based on the assumption that Western Sahara was an integral part of Morocco – a view that has long been rejected by the World Court, UN, OAU/AU and by a representative body of international lawyers. If it adopted the autonomy proposal, the world community would be legitimizing Morocco’s acquisition of territory by force – a patent violation of international law. A further practical concern was that authoritarian states had a poor track record in respecting regional autonomy; consider the fate of Kosovo at the hands of Yugoslavia and later Serbia. What added to such apprehensions in the case of Morocco was that the king enjoyed absolute authority under article 19 of the constitution. The autonomy plan’s stipulation that the Moroccan state ‘will keep its powers in the royal domains, especially with respect to defense, external relations and the constitutional and religious prerogatives of His Majesty the King’, could give the monarch wide freedom of interpretation. Finally, Morocco’s insistence that the Sahrawis renounce their legal and moral right to genuine self-determination may provoke further conflict instead of promoting a peaceful settlement.89 The latter concern can of course be addressed by offering the people of Western Sahara a free and fair choice between Morocco’s autonomy arrangement and independence; should they then prefer autonomy over independence, it would be a legitimate exercise in self-determination. Considering the high degree of autonomy promised by Morocco, a significant number of Sahrawis may well be attracted to the proposal. In the meantime the US, for one, has welcomed Morocco’s autonomy plan as a ‘promising and realistic way forward’.90

Following the release of their respective settlement plans, Morocco and the Polisario Front held their first direct talks in seven years when meeting under UN auspices in June 2007. A second round, also in the US, followed in August and a third in January 2008. After the latter meeting the UN Secretary-General reported that the two sides’ stated positions ‘remained far apart’ and that ‘there was hardly any exchange that could be characterized as negotiations’. They nonetheless agreed on the need to advance the process ‘into a more intensive and substantive phase of negotiations’.91 The Security Council, for its part, continued to call on the parties to resume negotiations with a view to achieving ‘a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara’.92

Actually reaching a solution is much easier said than done. The UN’s own record in this regard is rather chequered. When the world body first became engaged in Western Sahara, it defined the question in terms of decolonization; the matter had to be resolved on the basis of the self-determination of the population, exercised through a UN-arranged referendum. As we noted repeatedly, a genuine test of the popular will would require that at least the two main options – independence and integration into Morocco – be presented to the electorate. After more than four decades of involvement, the UN has still not put its chosen doctrine of self-determination into practice by organizing such a referendum for the Sahrawis.93

A further constraining factor lay, paradoxically, in the effectiveness of the 1991 ceasefire. The suspension of hostilities meant that for both Morocco and Polisario ‘the political cost of maintaining intransigent postures has appeared lower than the potential cost of moving away from them’. This held true even in the face of continuing Sahrawi protests against Moroccan rule. By contrast an unfavourable outcome could have serious domestic repercussions for Morocco because the legitimacy of its domestic order was closely tied to the fate of Western Sahara. The Polisario Front could in turn be devastated by an unfavourable settlement since the achievement of independent statehood has all along been its raison d’être. Should the movement renounce independence, its credibility among its followers and foreign backers could suffer. A final settlement producing less than Sahrawi statehood could cost Algeria leverage in its relations with Morocco and cause it to lose face internationally.94

Even if the status quo were bearable – if not actually advantageous – for the main protagonists, there were also costs for all concerned. This applied above all to the more than 160,000 Sahrawis languishing in refugee camps in Algeria, where they have had to endure ‘exile, isolation and poverty’ under the authority of an exiled state structure that displayed an authoritarian and corrupt streak. The Sahrawis living under Moroccan control were materially far better off than their refugee kinsfolk, but they faced persistent human rights abuses at the hands of their occupiers.95 Morocco has been shouldering a heavy financial burden in the so-called southern provinces, especially in the areas of defence and infrastructure, at the expense of its own development. There were also diplomatic costs in terms of Morocco’s alienation from the African mainstream and its international image as an occupying power denying Africa’s last colony its right of selfdetermination. Algeria too has incurred financial costs through its aid to Sahrawi refugees and military support for Polisario. The Maghreb region was paying a price for the unresolved conflict in Western Sahara in terms of retarding much needed development in what is a poorly governed part of Africa. Under these conditions illegal trafficking (drugs, cigarettes, fuel and arms) has become a thriving industry in the Maghreb.96 If all these costs continued to escalate, the stalemate over Western Sahara could become painful enough for the parties to engage in a genuine search for a compromise solution.

What if the UN Security Council remained incapable of fulfilling its responsibility of granting the people of Western Sahara their right of selfdetermination? One conceivable way out of the impasse would be to create an entirely new negotiating framework. The International Crisis Group has proposed that the Security Council should invite Morocco, the Polisario Front and Algeria – the three principal parties – ‘to negotiate a resolution of the conflict on the basis of whatever principles on which they can agree’, but without UN mediation. A deal (if it emerged) was likely to be based on either fragmenting or sharing the territory – rather than independence or the status quo – and could be submitted to the people of Western Sahara for ratification.97 This route seems premature at the present stage and could therefore be regarded as a fall-back position if the UN decided to bow out of the peace process.


It is a poor reflection on the international community that Africa’s last colony should have gone the route of contested statehood to assert its right of self-determination à la independence. The former Spanish colony’s right of statehood has been recognized by both the UN and the OAU, but Morocco has prevented its realization. Morocco has exercised its veto power over Western Sahara in a direct, forcible manner by occupying and annexing the territory. With the bulk of their purported land under Moroccan control, the Sahrawi independence movement has had to pursue its cause mostly from exile, where a large segment of the population lived as refugees.

As with Palestine, it would probably require an international diplomatic effort to break the current deadlock over the future of Western Sahara. The optimum outcome Polisario could realistically hope for is conditional independence preceded by an internationally supervised transition to this final status. In combination these two forms of international engagement could help overcome Western Sahara’s grave deficit in empirical statehood and at the same time allay Morocco’s security concerns. Considerations of domestic legitimacy may, however, compel Rabat to offer Western Sahara at most regional autonomy within the Moroccan state. International opinion is unlikely to demand anything more from Morocco and Polisario may be too weak to extract a better deal.


  1. Stephen Zunes, ‘Indigestible lands? Comparing the fates of Western Sahara and East Timor’, in Brendan O’Leary et al (eds), Right-Sizing the State: The Politics of Moving Borders, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001, p.289; Francois Rigaux, ‘East Timor and Western Sahara: A Comparative view’, in International Law and the Question of East Timor, CIIR/IPJET, London, 1995, pp.166–8.
  2. John Damis, Conflict in Northwest Africa: The Western Sahara Dispute, Hoover Institution Press, Stanford, 1983, p.1.
  3. Joshua Castellino, International Law and Self-Determination, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, The Hague, 2000, p.173; Stephen Zunes, ‘Indigestible lands?’, p.295.
  4. Faten Aggad & Pierre du Toit Botha, ‘Revisiting the Western Saharan conflict’, Africa Insight, Vol. 35(1), April 2005, p.66.
  5. John Damis, pp.2, 12.
  6. Faten Aggad & Pierre du Toit Botha, p.66.
  7. John Damis, p.13.
  8. Faten Aggad & Pierre du Toit Botha, p.66; John Damis, p.15; Tony Hodges, Western Sahara: The Roots of a Desert War, Lawrence Hill, Westport, 1983,
  9. John Damis, pp.15, 19, 23.
  10. Stephen Zunes, ‘Indigestible lands?’, p.311.
  11. Thomas Franck, ‘The theory and practice of decolonization – the Western Saharan case’, in Richard Lawless & Laila Monahan (eds), War and Refugees: The Western Sahara Conflict, Pinter, London, 1987, p.10.
  12. Jarat Chopra, United Nations Determination of the Western Saharan Self, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Oslo, 1994, p.9.
  13. Faten Aggad & Pierre du Toit Botha, pp.66–7.
  14. John Damis, pp.38–42; Tony Hodges, Western Sahara, p.vii.
  15. Quoted by Toby Shelley, Endgame in the Western Sahara: What Future for Africa’s Last Colony? Zed Books, London, 2004, p.171 and by Jarat Chopra, p.10.
  16. Quoted by Faten Aggad & Pierre du Toit Botha, p.67; Thomas Franck, pp.11–12.
  17. Toby Shelley, p.190; Tony Hodges, Western Sahara, p.viii; Faten Aggad & Pierre du Toit Botha, pp.67–8.
  18. John Damis, p.74; Faten Aggad & Pierre du Toit Botha, p.67; Tony Hodges, Western Sahara, p.viii; Thomas Franck, p.12. 19 John Damis, pp.74–5.
  19. Western Sahara Online, ‘SADR: Proclamation of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (February 27, 1976)’,
  20. Western Sahara Online, ‘SADR: Proclamation of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic; John Damis, pp.75–6; Timothy Othieno & Siphamandla Zondi, ‘Western Sahara and the UN: A litany of failures and a confluence of possibilities’, Global Insight, No. 51, June 2005, p.1 (Institute for Global Dialogue, Midrand, South Africa).
  21. Tony Hodges, Western Sahara, p.308; Tony Hodges, ‘Introduction’, in Richard Lawless & Laila Monahan (eds), p.4.
  22. John Damis, pp.40–2; Jarat Chopra, p.43.
  23. Stephen Zunes, ‘Indigestible lands?’, p.296.
  24. Suresh C Saxena, The Liberation War in Western Sahara, Vidya Publishers, New Delhi, 1981, pp.81–5; Tony Hodges, Western Sahara, p.viii; Karen Thomas, ‘A future on hold’, History Today, Vol. 51(8), August 2001, p.2.
  25. Joshua Castellino, p.253.
  26. The Middle East and North Africa 2005, Europa Publications, London, 2004, p.843.
  27. John Damis, pp.82–3; Faten Aggad & Pierre du Toit Botha, p.67; Jacob Mundy, ‘Western Sahara between autonomy and intifada’, Global Policy Forum, 16 March 2007, p.3, 0316intifada.htm.
  28. Ian Williams & Stephen Zunes, ‘Self-determination struggle in the Western Sahara continues to challenge the UN’, Foreign Policy in Focus (Global Policy Forum), September 2003, p.3.
  29. John Damis, pp.45, 86–7; The Middle East and North Africa 2005, p.843.
  30. Malcolm N Shaw, quoted by Susan Slyomovics, ‘Self-determination as selfdefinition: The case of Morocco’, in Hurst Hannum & Eileen F Babbitt (eds), Negotiating Self-Determination, Lexington Books, Lanham, 2006, p.146.
  31. Susan Slyomovics, pp.147–8.
  32. Ian Williams & Stephen Zunes, p.3; Toby Shelley, pp.190–1.
  33. Susan Slyomovics, pp.147–8.
  34. ICG, Western Sahara: The Cost of the Conflict, Report No. 65, 11 June 2007, p.12.
  35. The Middle East and North Africa 2005, p.856; The Economist, 10 March 2007. Also see Akbarali Thobhani, Western Sahara since 1975 under Moroccan Administration: Social, Economic, and Political Transformation, Edwin Meilen Press, Lewiston NY, 2002.
  36. Ian Williams & Stephen Zunes, p.1.
  37. Timothy Othieno & Siphamandla Zondi, p.8; The Economist, 10 March 2007; ICG, Western Sahara: The Cost of Conflict, pp.1, 5, 12; Toby Shelley, pp.191–4.
  38. Tony Hodges, Western Sahara, pp.307–10, 315.
  39. ICG, Western Sahara: The Cost of the Conflict, p.16.
  40. Darrell Dela Rosa, ‘The UN role in Western Sahara’, UN Chronicle, No. 3, 2003, p.22; The Middle East and North Africa 2005, p.855. 42 Quoted by Tony Hodges, Western Sahara, p.319.
  41. Quoted by Faten Aggad & Pierre du Toit Botha, p.71.
  42. Quoted by Faten Aggad & Pierre du Toit Botha, p.71.
  43. ICG, Western Sahara: The Cost of the Conflict, p.3.
  44. Joshua Castellino, p.185; Faten Aggad & Pierre du Toit Botha, p.71; UN Department of Public Information, ‘Western Sahara-MINURSO-mandate’,; The Middle East and North Africa 2005, p.855.
  45. Jacob Mundy, ‘Western Sahara: Against autonomy’, Foreign Policy in Focus (International Relations Center), 4 May 2007, p.3, Africa/2778.cfm; Jarat Chopra, pp.12–17; Faten Aggad & Pierre du Toit Botha, pp.71–2; Jacob Mundy, ‘Western Sahara between autonomy and intifada’, pp.3–4.
  46. The Middle East and North Africa 2005, pp.856–7; Jacob Mundy, ‘Western Sahara between autonomy and intifada’, p.4.
  47. Faten Aggad & Pierre du Toit Botha, p.72; Timothy Othieno & Siphamandla Zondi, p.3.
  48. Quoted by Faten Aggad & Pierre du Toit Botha, p.72.
  49. Timothy Othieno & Siphamandla Zondi, p.4; UN News Service, ‘UN mission in Western Sahara should remain for 6 more months – Annan’, 24 April 2006,; Jacob Mundy, ‘Western Sahara between autonomy and intifada’, p.5.
  50. UN Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on the Situation concerning Western Sahara, Document S/2006/249, 19 April 2006, p.9.
  51. Neil Ford, ‘Oil potential could provide catalyst for change’, Middle East, No. 330, January 2003, p.54.
  52. S. Department of State, Western Sahara Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998, Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February 1999, p.2.
  53. Mohamed Cherkaoui, Morocco and the Sahara: Social Bonds and Geopolitical Issues, Bardwell Press, Oxford, 2007, p.179.
  54. Quoted by Neil Ford, p.53.
  55. Quoted by The Middle East and North Africa 2005, pp.857–8; Timothy Othieno & Siphamandla Zondi, p.7; Neil Ford, pp.52–3.
  56. Timothy Othieno & Siphamandla Zondi, pp.5–6; Suresh C Saxena, p.93; Faten Aggad, ‘Future prospects for the resolution of the conflict in the Western Sahara’, Africa Insight, Vol. 36(2), June 2006, pp.40–1. Jacob Mundy, ‘Western Sahara between autonomy and intifada’, p.5.
  57. Timothy Othieno & Siphamandla Zondi, p.8.
  58. Faten Aggad, ‘Future prospects for the resolution of the conflict in the Western Sahara’, p.42; UN Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on the Situation concerning Western Sahara, 19 April 2006, p.1.
  59. Jacob Mundy, ‘Western Sahara: Against autonomy’; Jacob Mundy, ‘Western Sahara between autonomy and intifada’, p.6.
  60. UN Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on the Situation concerning Western Sahara, 13 April 2007, Document S/2007/202, pp.3, 13; Jacob Mundy, ‘Western Sahara between autonomy and intifada’, pp.2–3.
  61. Quoted in ‘Sahrawi independence would be “viable”’, Afrol News, 2 March 2002.
  62. CIA, The World Factbook, Western Sahara, 2003.
  63. Faten Aggad & Pierre du Toit Botha, p.68.
  64. Stephen Zunes, ‘UN betrayal of Western Sahara appears imminent’, Foreign Policy in Focus, 2 June 2001.
  65. Quoted by Toby Shelley, p.181.
  66. Toby Shelley, pp.181–3.
  67. The Middle East and North Africa 2005, p.859.
  68. Western Sahara News, Résumé February 2008, 27 February 2008, p.2,
  69. Stephen Zunes, ‘UN betrayal of Western Sahara appears imminent’; Barry Bartmann, ‘Political realities and legal anomalies: Revisiting the politics of international recognition’, in Tozun Bahcheli et al (eds), De Facto States: The Quest for Sovereignty, Routledge, London, 2004, p.28.
  70. Joshua Castellino, p.189.
  71. See the monthly Western Sahara News Résumé at
  72. The monthly Western Sahara News Résumé carries regular reports on NGOs concerning themselves with Western Sahara.
  73. Western Sahara News, Résumé January 2008, 14 January 2008, p.4, http://www.
  74. Quoted by Stephen Zunes, ‘The future of Western Sahara’, Foreign Policy in Focus (Washington DC), 20 July 2007, p.3.
  75. ICG, Western Sahara: The Cost of Conflict, p.2.
  76. Stephen Zunes, ‘The future of Western Sahara’, p.3.
  77. UN Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on the Situation concerning Western Sahara, 13 April 2007, p.2; Adil Dekkaki, ‘Proposals to resolve the conflict in the Western Sahara’, Global Policy Forum, 17 April 2007, p.2,; Stephen Zunes, ‘The future of Western Sahara’, p.3.
  78. Jacob Mundy, ‘Western Sahara: Against autonomy’, p.3.
  79. Jacob Mundy, ‘Western Sahara: Against autonomy’, p.3.
  80. The Middle East and North Africa 2005, p.857.
  81. Jacob Mundy, ‘Western Sahara: Against autonomy’, pp.2–4; Mohamed Cherkaoui, p.61.
  82. Moroccan American Center for Policy, ‘The Moroccan initiative in the Western Sahara’, 11 April 2007, CompromiseSolution041107.pdf.
  83. Western Sahara News, Résumé November 2007, 6 November 2007, p.1,
  84. Stephen Zunes, ‘Indigestible lands?’, p.312.
  85. Quoted in ICG, Western Sahara: The Cost of Conflict, p.2.
  86. Stephen Zunes, ‘Indigestible lands?’, p.312.
  87. Stephen Zunes, ‘The future of Western Sahara’, pp.1–3.
  88. SABCNEWS, ‘UN divided on Morocco, Western Sahara dispute’, 12 July 2007,,2172,152402,00…
  89. UN Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on the Status and Progress of the Negotiations on Western Sahara, 25 January 2008, document S/2008/45, pp.1–3.
  90. com, ‘Western Sahara: Security Council extends UN’s mission through April 2008’.
  91. ICG, Western Sahara: Out of the Impasse, Report No. 66, 11 June 2007, from the executive summary, pp.1–3, 4893&1=1.
  92. ICG, Western Sahara: Out of the Impasse, from the executive summary, p.1; ICG, Western Sahara: The Cost of Conflict, p.i, Jacob Mundy, ‘Western Sahara: Against autonomy’, p.6.
  93. ICG, Western Sahara: The Cost of Conflict, pp.i, 8.
  94. ICG, Western Sahara: The Cost of Conflict, pp.i, 16–19.
  95. ICG, Western Sahara: Out of the Impasse, from the executive summary, p.2.

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