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The Journal of North African


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The struggle for Western Sahara:


What future for Africa's last
colony?
Laura E. Smith
Published online: 24 Jan 2007.

To cite this article: Laura E. Smith (2005) The struggle for Western Sahara: What future
for Africa's last colony?, The Journal of North African Studies, 10:3-4, 545-563, DOI:
10.1080/13629380500336854
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13629380500336854

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The Struggle for Western Sahara: What Future


for Africas Last Colony?

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LAURA E. SMITH

This article looks at the status of the struggle for Western Sahara 30 years after the inception of
the conflict. The self-determination referendum for the Saharawis is still no nearer to being
realised after 14 years of political stalemate. However, events on the ground may prove significant for determining the future direction and character of the struggle. The North African region
has now become a key component in the war on terror and Americas imperial strategy for
Africa. This has been accompanied by a significant change in the role of Algeria (the main
backer of the Saharawis) and the increased militarisation of the region, which is home to the
Saharawi refugee camps. Unrest in the occupied territories is increasing and Saharawi protests
against Moroccan occupation are gaining more support and attention. The paper concludes that
the threat of the Western Sahara conflict reverting to violence is now greater than ever.

Introduction
The decolonisation of the territory of Western Sahara has not been completed, almost
forty-two years after it was designated a non-self governing territory by the United
Nations Decolonisation Committee. The self-determination referendum, promised
to the Saharawi people in 1963, which would determine the status of the territory,
never took place. The Saharawis have lived as a divided people, some inside the
territory controlled by Morocco, others as refugees in neighbouring countries and
Europe, since the withdrawal of Spain and the invasion by Morocco in 1975.
The United Nations peace process has been stalled and the referendum delayed for
the last 14 years; the conflict and protracted refugee situation long forgotten in the
western world.
In May and June 2005 an uprising of public protest from within the Moroccan
controlled territory of Western Sahara caught the attention of the international media.
Protests from Saharawi civil rights groups and students protesting against human
rights violations were violently dispersed by the Moroccan security forces. Further
protests spread rapidly into other cities in Western Sahara and Morocco proper,
and many developed into pro-Saharawi independence demonstrations. The media
reported violent reprisals from the Moroccan authorities including serious human
rights abuses and disappearances during the course of two weeks of protests.

Laura E. Smith graduated with an MA in Peace Studies from Bradford University. She has worked extensively for the Western Sahara Campaign and also as an independent researcher amongst the Saharawi
people in the Tindouf refugee camps. She is currently engaged in research on the role of the private
sector in peace-building and conflict prevention.
The Journal of North African Studies, Vol.10, No.34 (SeptemberDecember 2005) pp.545563
ISSN 1362-9387 print=1743-9345 online
DOI: 10.1080=13629380500336854 # 2005 Taylor & Francis

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Although the demonstrations were not the first to occur in the territory, these were
significantly larger, well organised and widespread and gained more attention from
outside Morocco than ever before. The events were the culmination of years of Saharawi resistance to Moroccan colonisation. The open rejection of Moroccan rule
suggests that the 30-year long occupation has increased Saharawi demands for independence and serves as a reminder that, although the conflict is deadlocked at the UN
level, the Saharawi struggle is still strong. Events on the ground may prove decisive
for the future of the conflict. Equally, the recent arrival of oil politics and changes in
the geopolitics of the region following the launch of the United States-led war on
terror have added a new dimension to the conflict. While the militarisation and
increased US presence in the Sahara region suggests that the conflict may get more
attention in future from the US, the precise implications for movement towards a
settlement and the delivery of the referendum on self-determination that the Saharawis have long been promised are still hard to define.
Forty-two years after the territory first appeared in the United Nations decolonisation files, the Saharawis struggle is still alive: this paper will attempt to explore the
current parameters within which it is waged.
Africas Last Decolonisation File
Despite the overwhelming backing of international law and several United Nations
General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions to support Saharawi self-determination,
Realpolitik rather than international law has dictated the course of the Western
Sahara conflict and with it the fate of the Saharawi people. It is 30 years since the
Saharawi independence struggle, set to reap the fruits of its labour, was betrayed
by Francos Spain and encountered a new colonial master. Africas last decolonisation file remains open at the United Nations (UN) and the struggle for Western
Sahara has earned it the unfortunate label of the forgotten conflict.
The right of the Saharawi people to self-determination was recognised by the UN
as early as 1963 when Western Sahara, then known as the Spanish Sahara, was designated a non-self governing territory.1 A UN mission sent to Western Sahara in May
1975 to assess the desire of the peoples of the territory noted an overwhelming consensus among Saharans within the territory in favour of independence and opposing
integration with any neighbouring country.2 The UNGA requested that Spain begin
preparing for a referendum for the indigenous population, the Saharawi, to determine
their future. Instead, however, in Francos last hours, Spain signed the Madrid
Accords, a tripartite agreement dividing Western Sahara between Morocco and
Mauritania in return for valuable natural resource rights.3
In November 1975 350,000 Moroccan civilians crossed the border into Western
Sahara during the Green March, which aimed at reintegrating the lost provinces
of the Sahara.4 The march occurred in direct contravention of the 1975 International
Court of Justice (ICJ) opinion, which weeks before had ruled that, although legal ties
of allegiance between the Sultan of Morocco and some of the tribes living in the
territory of Western Sahara had existed at the time of Spanish colonisation, they
did not establish any tie of territorial sovereignty between the territory of Western

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547

Sahara and the Kingdom of Morocco or the Mauritanian entity. The ICJ concluded
that the Court has not found any legal ties of such a nature as might effect the application of General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) in the decolonisation 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.5
ICJ and UN resolutions called for the participants of the march to withdraw, but the
civilian influx quickly progressed to a military invasion. Thousands of Saharawis fled
Western Sahara to seek refuge in neighbouring Algeria. Morocco, using napalm and
cluster bombs against the Saharawi population,6 invaded from the north, while
Mauritania invaded from the south. The Polisario Front (Frente Popular para la
Liberacion de Saguia el Hamra y Rio de Oro, hereafter Polisario), the Saharawi liberation movement, created in 1973 to resist Spanish colonial rule, mounted a guerrilla
war against the invading armies. Mauritania was unable to sustain the war and withdrew in 1979, leaving Morocco to take over their strongholds in the south.7 The effectiveness of Polisario guerrilla tactics against Moroccan targets induced the Moroccans
to construct (with US and French funding) a heavily militarised wall the berm,8
which to this day divides the territory of Western Sahara between the Moroccan
occupied area, comprising roughly 80 per cent, and the remaining Polisario controlled
area to the east, known as the liberated zone. With the 1,500-mile berm completed in
the 1980s, the conflict became a war of attrition. Unable to cross from one side of their
territory to the other, displaced Saharawi refugees organised themselves in camps near
the town of Tindouf in Algeria. For some 30 years this Saharawi refugee community
has remained cut off from Saharawis trapped in the territory occupied by Morocco. The
Polisario established the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) state in 1976,
which remains exiled in the refugee camps near Tindouf.9
In 1988 the UN intervened, negotiating a ceasefire and drawing up a peace plan in
collaboration with the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Morocco and the
Polisario10 agreed to the UN-proposed 1991 Settlement Plan, the ultimate goal of
which was to organise a free and fair referendum on self-determination for the
people of Western Sahara, based on the 1974 Spanish census.11 The UN accordingly
established the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (known by its
French acronym MINURSO) to guarantee the exercise of the right to self-determination of the indigenous population.
The Referendum that Never Was
The referendum on self-determination ran into obstacles from the beginning. As
Chopra records:
MINURSO suffered from an unprecedented gap between the powers of the UN
assumed on paper and the means to exercise this authority in the field. Consequently the peace process faltered at each critical phase of the timetable, during
the ceasefire and the identification of voters.12
In fact, the UN ceded control of the voter registration process to the parties, which,
as Human Rights Watch noted, seriously jeopardised its fairness.13 In addition to

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tightly controlling the identification process to the detriment of Saharawis, Morocco


obstructed the deployment of the UN operation and prevented its freedom of movement within the territory.14 Morocco attempted to rig the voter list, first in 1991 by
moving 170,000 settlers into the territory and secondly by presenting a list two and
a half times the size of the population of the territory. Dates set for the referendum
went by as Morocco launched appeals against the final voter list. Hostilities
between the parties intensified and they refused to meet to discuss the faltering
peace process. By 1996 the resumption of war looked likely.
From Self-determination to the Third Way
Optimism prevailed in 1997 as the former US Secretary of State, James Baker III, was
introduced as the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.
Bakers mandate was to get the identification process back on track and his high
profile status suggested that the UN was prepared to ensure the referendum take place.
Baker negotiated new criteria for voter identification via the Houston Accords and
the final voter list was completed by 1999. Given that the list was close to the 1974
Spanish census figure, the predicted outcome of the referendum was a vote in favour
of Saharawi independence. However, Morocco launched 130,000 appeals against the
list, 95% of which were devoid of any legal or practical basis.15
The failure of the parties to agree on the identification process16 was cited as the
official reason for the delayed referendum, yet it was clear to many observers that
Morocco never intended to allow a referendum it could not be sure to win.
From 1999 the discourse within the UN began to shift as allusions to a third way
replaced references to the self-determination referendum. Indeed, the third way
appeared:
not because it was seen as a possible political solution to what was described as
a complex problem, but because both France and the United States came to the
conclusion that Morocco would never accept the results of a referendum, thus
implicitly recognising that a free and fair referendum would lead to Saharawi
independence.17
In subsequent Secretary Generals reports, the self-determination referendum the
inalienable right of colonial peoples to determine their future was now regarded
as a winner-take-all system antithetical to conflict resolution. In his July 2000
report to the Security Council Kofi Annan acknowledged that negotiations had deepened the differences between the parties,18 and made reference to a solution
whereby each would get some, but not all of what they want.19 The Secretary Generals references to an early, lasting and durable solution to the conflict seemed to
indicate that a new approach was necessary, in spite of the Settlement Plan,
Houston Accords and UN resolutions.20 Moroccan intransigence was being rewarded.
The political solution was presented in the Draft Framework Agreement,
produced by James Baker in 2002. The Framework Agreement, as it is known, was
widely criticised as a thinly veiled proposal for the integration of Western Sahara
into Morocco under the label of autonomy. The plan anticipated the return of the

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549

Saharawi refugees to Western Sahara for an interim period of five years after which a
referendum would take place. The choices at the ballot box would be independence,
continued autonomy, or integration into Morocco. The crux of this plan, however,
was the participation in the referendum of all the people residing in the territory of
Western Sahara prior to 1999. This would include the thousands of Moroccan settlers
who have been moved to the territory by Morocco since the Green March of 1975 and
who outnumber the Saharawis.
The Framework Agreement appeared to guarantee a vote for the integration of
Western Sahara into Morocco. Bakers proposal met with disapproval from the UN
Security Council and outright rejection by Algeria and the Polisario, the latter
arguing that the participation of Moroccan settlers in the referendum vote made it
merely a referendum on integration.
Baker returned in 2003 with the Peace Plan for the Self Determination of the
Western Sahara (known as Baker II), which claimed to offer some elements of
both the 1991 Settlement Plan and the 2002 Framework Agreement. The new plan
included some key differences such as the creation of a Western Sahara Authority,
which would be elected by the Saharawis identified on the 1999 UN voter list. This
elected body would have control over Saharawi affairs including local government,
law enforcement, economic development and industry for an interim period of five
years.21 However, the enduring feature was the participation in the final referendum
of all people residing in the territory before 1999, which would again include the
thousands of Moroccan settlers. Again, Bakers proposal appeared to guarantee a
Moroccan victory.
Yet, after initially rejecting the plan, the Polisario surprisingly accepted Bakers
Peace Plan as a major concession and sacrifice, but one that they were prepared
to work with.22 Morocco, however, rejected the plan, objecting to the creation of
the Western Sahara Authority and indeed to the very option of independence as a
ballot box choice.23
The result of the UN Peace process in Western Sahara, which has lasted 14 years
at a cost of approximately US$10 billion, is a seemingly irresolvable impasse. The
task of organising a referendum on self-determination for the Saharawi people to
which Morocco will agree only in terms of its territorial integrity and sovereignty
and the omission of the option of independence the clear choice of the Saharawi
is impracticable. The lack of an enforcement mechanism in the original peace plan
and the pro-Moroccan position of France and the US in the Security Council have
made a solution to the conflict even more elusive. Baker resigned, openly frustrated,
in August 2004, leaving yet another question mark over the whole process.24
Regional Stability and the Interests of the Main Powers
The mission to decolonise Western Sahara was impeded by the Moroccan grand plan
for its southern provinces and complicated by the interests of the main powers
concerned. The US has provided considerable economic and military assistance to
Morocco since the 1975 invasion. The French government has long lasting and
strong connections to the Moroccan elite, the makhzen, and in particular the

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monarchy. Both countries have officially supported the UN process to organise the
referendum, but then worked through the Security Council to promote the Moroccan
position. Spains failure to fulfil its colonial obligations to the Saharawis in 1975 has
been followed by a record of forsaking international law for political and economic
gain with Morocco, despite popular support for the Saharawi cause in Spain.
The main preoccupation of both France and the US has been to ensure the stability
of the Moroccan regime. Morocco has been an important and valued western ally in
North Africa and a bulwark between the west and Islam. As Moroccos strategic relevance has declined since the Cold War, Morocco has attempted to reposition itself as
the USs chosen ally in the post-9/11 world, taking tough action against Islamists in
Morocco.
The rise of Islamism in Algeria, which culminated in the cancellation of the 1992
elections (which would almost certainly have brought to power the first democratically elected Islamist government) and the ensuing civil war, strengthened Moroccos
significance in the region for a while. It was believed that a referendum favourable to
the Saharawis would generate destabilising forces in Morocco, and lead to the possible overthrow of the Monarchy, with dire consequences for both US and French
interests.
The Moroccan claim to Western Sahara also has to be placed in the context of
Moroccos domestic politics. On the eve of the Green March, King Hassan was
facing a challenging domestic situation and had experienced two attempted military
coups. The regaining of the lost provinces of the Sahara diverted the attention of the
population, kept the armed forces occupied and significantly strengthened Hassans
domestic position in Morocco. This nationalist agenda was, and still is, popular
across political parties and with the general population.
After King Hassans death in 1999 the new King, Mohammed VI, came to power
with a modernising agenda, but hopes that this would include a change in Western
Sahara policy soon were dashed. The continuing importance of the Sahara question
to domestic politics cannot be underestimated. Mohammed VI, perceived as politically weaker than his father, adopted an uncompromising stance on the Sahara
issue to consolidate his authority. The US and France gave stronger support to the
new Monarch to ensure the stability of the transition.
For their part, the US and France have avoided imposing a solution to the Western
Sahara conflict that would be favourable to one party or the other. They have had to
balance their support for the integration of Western Sahara into Morocco with the
need to avoid the alienation of Algeria, the regional supporter of the Saharawis and
with whom both countries have important commercial ties.
Algeria has been a steadfast supporter of the Saharawis self-determination
struggle and their main economic, military and diplomatic backer since the Moroccan
invasion. Moroccan-Algerian relations have been beset by a number of both real and
potential conflict situations since the time of Algerias independence from France in
1962. The root of the dispute between the two countries is that Moroccos Istiqlal map
of Greater Morocco includes a claim to Algerian territory. The sand war of 1963
and the subsequent ongoing border dispute between the two countries degenerated
further with Moroccos occupation of the Western Sahara.

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Although Algeria has never been involved militarily in the Western Sahara
conflict, both the US and France have been careful not to promote a situation that
could lead to a direct confrontation between the two regional powers. The selfdetermination referendum, they believed, had the potential to cause two destabilising
outcomes that of the downfall of the Moroccan regime, or the outbreak of regional
war. The premium placed on the maintenance of regional stability explains the lack of
political will to ensure the success of MINURSO, which instead has been used as a
vehicle to ensure the containment of the conflict.25 The stalemate generated by
the failure of MINURSO to successfully organise and hold a referendum has at the
same time maintained a situation favourable to US and French interests in the
region. Thus, ironically, the UN mission to decolonise Western Sahara has proven
an effective way to avoid the potentially negative outcomes that the referendum for
the Saharawi could cause.
While the pursuit of regional stability by the main powers has allowed Morocco
the de facto control of Western Sahara, the question of the territorys natural
mineral wealth is not without significance. The considerable investments made by
Morocco to harness the territorys economic potential have been a key driver in perpetuating the conflict situation: the phosphate reserves of Western Sahara ensure that
Morocco remains the worlds largest producer of phosphates, while the rich fishing
grounds off the Western Saharan coast are exploited by Moroccan boats.
Speculation as to the amount of oil onshore and offshore Western Sahara led to the
signing in 2001 of offshore oil reconnaissance contracts between Morocco and two
major oil multinational companies, Total (France) and Kerr McGee (US).26 Interestingly, the timing of the contracts coincided with the French and US backed Framework Agreement, which, as noted, appeared to guarantee the integration of
Western Sahara into Morocco. Rumours in the press of a James Baker/Kerr
McGee connection raised suspicions that the involvement of big business and the
prospect of oil would seal the fate of the referendum. However, UN legal opinion
precluded further exploration, a reminder of the delicate legal and political situation
that subsequently led to Totals withdrawal.27
North Africa After 9/11: a New Front in the War on Terror
In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the USA, the Bush administration
launched its war on terror, declaring that:
Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with
us or with the terrorists.28
Algeria, which had been embroiled in a domestic war on terror against Islamists for
almost a decade, was one of the first states to offer empathetic support to the US, thus
ushering in a new era of US-Algerian political and military cooperation. During the
course of 2003 4 the US-Algerian military-intelligence services launched a new
front in the war on terror across most of the Sahara-Sahel region. US-Algerian
reports of terrorists swarming across the Sahara and its vast, unpoliceable
border regions, albeit over-hyped and unverified29 provided the justification for a

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US presence across the region in the form of the Bush administrations Pan Sahel
Initiative (PSI).30
In addition to the stated goal of combating radical Islamism in the region, this
engagement is integral to the USAs longer-term strategy in which Africa is
deemed essential to the future of US economic and security interests. The Cheney
Report highlighted the fact that Africa may constitute up to 25 per cent of the
USAs oil supplies by 2020.31 The USAs increasing dependency on foreign oil
means energy security must be a priority of US trade and foreign policy.32 9/11 provided the architects of the US imperial strategy with a unique opportunity to gain
legitimacy for their militarisation and securitisation of the African continent. The creation of a new front in war on terror in the Sahara is, as Keenan has emphasised:
a deception . . .designed to create the ideological conditions for the USs invasion of Africa and the securing of US strategic national resources.33
The post 9/11 emergence of Algeria as the USAs main regional ally has not only
changed the role and fortunes of Algeria significantly but has also added a new
regional dimension to the Western Sahara conflict.34

The Implications of Algerias New Status for the Saharawi Struggle


In the post-Cold War world, and now with the war on terror, Algeria has changed its
international image from a Third World champion of revolutionary struggle, to a
country opening to western investment and influence. An important question is
what the new US-Algerian relationship means for the future of the Saharawi struggle.
Could there be negative consequences for the Saharawis, who rely on Algeria not only
for military and economic support, but also for their firm diplomatic backing and
unwavering commitment to the principle underlying the Saharawi struggle?
Reportedly, the Western Sahara was high on the agenda during the July 2001
meeting between Bouteflika and US officials in Washington, with Bouteflika possibly
being encouraged to adopt a new, more pragmatic approach to the issue.35 During
Bouteflikas second Washington meeting in November 2001, in which he met with
James Baker, it was rumoured that Bouteflika told Baker that Algeria was no
longer opposed to the third way in (the) Western Sahara.36
The remark made by retired General Major Khaled Nezzar, former Algerian
Minister of Defence, to newspapers in 2003 that Algeria does not need another
state at its borders37 exacerbated rumours that Algerias loyalty to the Saharawi
might be in question. His comments were countered by the governments and
militarys reiteration of Algerias commitment to the Saharawis right to selfdetermination and the UN settlement plan.
However, the Algerian about-turn in response to Baker II later in 2003 lent further
weight to the speculations. Ahmed Boukhari, Polisario representative to the UN,
made a clear reference to pressure from Algeria and Spain when saying that the
Polisario had decided to accept Baker II.38 From an original response in which
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THE STRUGGLE FOR WESTERN SAHARA

553

people, Algeria returned to the table to accept Baker II as a gamble for peace in the
Maghreb.39 As Shelley suggests:

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For Polisario, the bleaker assessment was that this was a signal that economic
and political pressures and trends . . . had finally convinced Algeria to transform
its diplomatic stance on the Western Sahara from one founded on conviction to
something much more contingent.40
A pessimistic outlook is that Algeria could be pressured by the US and France, or
enticed by commercial deals and the possibility of regional hegemony, into making
a deal over the Polisarios head. The dramatic improvement in relations with the
US has been accompanied (albeit to a lesser degree) by a development of closer
relations between France and Algeria. Meetings between Chirac and Bouteflika led
to the signing of the Algiers declaration in March 2003.
In spite of the occasional ambiguity, however, Algeria has been constant in its
assertion that the Western Sahara issue is one of international legality and selfdetermination to be resolved through the UN body.41 It is certain that the support
of Algeria for the Saharawi position reaches beyond that of pure self-interest; the
legitimacy of Algerian foreign policy hinges on the belief of self-determination of
people.42 Algerias colonial past and independence struggle have moulded the
nations identity and strong elements, especially within the dominant military
ranks, remain firmly committed to these ideals. Western Sahara, although a major
barrier to good relations between Algeria and Morocco, is one expression of the
deeper rivalry between the two countries. The distrust of Morocco traces back to
the 1963 sand war, and the fear of Moroccan irredentism is still strong among Algerian policy makers and military figures.43
There are limited signs of Moroccan-Algerian rapprochement, but past trends
have seen relations regularly fluctuate between warm and cold. Early in 2005 two
meetings between Mohammed VI and Bouteflika were followed by the concrete
measure of withdrawing visa requirements by Algeria. However, Bouteflika was
snubbed by Mohammed VI in May 2005 when the King withdrew from the Arab
Maghreb Union (AMU) summit, perhaps to send an implicit message to the US
that the AMU cannot work without the resolution of the Western Sahara conflict.
The stability of the Maghrib rests on good relations between Morocco and Algeria
and hostility between the two has obstructed a natural process of regional integration
which would bring important economic and security benefits for the region and
western interests. The failure of the Arab Maghreb Union continues to stall the
creation of a lucrative market for US firms.44
It is unclear if Algeria and Morocco will settle their differences under pressure
from the US and France. It is crucial, however, for the Saharawis that Algeria continues to resist pressure from France, Morocco and the US to accept the Western
Sahara issue as a bilateral issue to be resolved between Morocco and Algeria. The
acceptance by all parties, including the Polisario, of the political solution contained
in Baker II ensures that the seeking of autonomy, or a negotiated settlement of some
description, is likely to receive further negotiation. How realistic the third way or
autonomy situation is will be dealt with later in this paper. An equally important

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consideration is the position in which the Polisario currently finds itself, and if they
are able to concede any more than Baker II. The positive announcement in July
2005 of the release and return to Morocco of the remaining POWs detained by Polisario in the refugee camps, under pressure from the international solidarity movement
for Western Sahara, is one that will have unnerved some of the more militant ranks
within Polisario.

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The Possibility of a Return to Armed Struggle


A statement by the President of the SADR state, Mohammed Abdelaziz, in May 2005
suggested that a return to armed struggle is an option the Polisario are considering in
light of the continued UN deadlock.45 Such statements have not been uncommon;
however, this one is perhaps more striking as it occurs at the time of other significant
regional developments.
The April 2005 report of the UN Secretary-General on the situation concerning
Western Sahara, notes a serious deterioration in compliance with the ceasefire
agreement.46 According to the report, Morocco has installed and upgraded radar
and surveillance along the entire length of the berm, on a smaller scale the Polisario
has deployed a unit of armed personnel with anti-aircraft weapons in the restricted
area east of the berm. The report requests the strengthening of MINURSO, which
presently stands at a mere 227 military observers.
In South Algeria/North Sahel, the militaries of regional governments are increasing their presence and scope. Although the aim of the PSI (now known as the TransSaharan Counter-Terror Initiative or PSI-TSCTI) is to enhance regional peace and
security, it is believed that the US initiative may backfire, fuelling existing tensions
in the region and could potentially attract radical Islamist groups to the area.
As Keenan points out:
The first and most apparent outcome of Americas PSI has been to increase the
political instability and insecurity of a region which, although politically
complex and fragile, was nevertheless relatively stable.47
The long-term sustainability of the protracted refugee situation in the midst of such
developments has to be questioned.
The Saharawi have nurtured a mild and tolerant form of Islam and have been committed to peaceful struggle since the ceasefire. Unfortunately, the Saharawi have not
been rewarded for adhering to peaceful diplomacy, with the result that frustrations are
running high. The Polisario military units languish idly at the desert front line whilst
the conflict is played out in the UN. The overwhelming opinion in the refugee camps
is that the Saharawi have been let down by the UN, and that the international community namely the US cares only about oil and Iraq. The belief, especially among
the youths, is that attention is given only to violent struggles such as the IsraelPalestine conflict, with such views being accompanied by a certain degree of
identification with the Palestinian struggle.48 Such feelings are compounded by the
increased access of the refugees to the outside world via media or study trips
abroad, which has created a situation of well educated youths, aware of international

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events and increasingly aware of their relative marginalisation. Those Saharawis


fortunate enough to leave the camps for university places in Spain, Algeria or
Cuba, are destined to return to an existence in the camps of poverty and waiting.
If, as frequently cited by Western governments and the media, terrorism is fed by
poverty and hopelessness, then the Saharawis in the refugee camps, where a tolerant
and democratic Islam has been nurtured in the context of poverty and deprivation, for
now at least, serve as an example that proves the contrary.
The talk of a return to armed struggle by Saharawis in the camps is more than a
rhetorical expression of their frustration. It is becoming increasingly difficult for
the Polisario government to persuade its militants to accept another UN delay. In
2004 a nationalist manifesto was distributed in the camps which challenged the leadership on its lack of progress, its capitulation on the Baker II plan and promoted the
return to armed struggle as a means to solve the conflict.49 The manifesto prompted a
debate in the camps among ordinary Saharawis50 and it must be recognised that,
whatever its negative consequences, if the goal is to gain international attention
to the forgotten issue then a return to armed struggle remains a consideration.51
Saharawi Nationalism in the Camps: a Transfer to the Occupied Territory
A strong Saharawi national identity has grown in the camps during the years of exile.
The long delay in the UN peace process has been beneficial to Morocco in that it has
allowed time for the Moroccanisation of the Western Saharan territory with the high
number of Moroccan settlers. The delay could have ensured also that the Saharawi
independence struggle, waged from the exile of the refugee camps, had died.
However, this has not been the case. On the contrary, the Saharawi refugee camps
near Tindouf have developed into a Saharawi state in exile, which has nurtured a
strong nationalist sentiment among the population. The Polisario Front has created
a state complete with democratic institutions, commercial districts, schools, hospitals,
official buildings, flags and currency. There is very limited visibility of aid agencies or
the United Nations in the camps and the Saharawis are in control of the everyday
functioning of camp life. Saharawi cultural traditions have been preserved and
indeed developed through art, music, language and education.
As San Martin has observed:
What is visible in the everyday life of the refugees is the political and
institutional structure of the POLISARIO. A nationalist structure that is constantly reminding. . .the inhabitants of the camps through a wide range of
symbolic elements who they are: citizens of the Saharawi Arab Democratic
Republic.52
The result is a state in waiting, with institutional structures ready to be transferred to
Western Sahara. From conversations with the refugees in the camps it is clear that
there is a significant emotional attachment to the Saharawi state as they experience
it now, and a strong desire to reach the end goal of transporting this to an independent
Western Sahara. Given the strength of the Saharawi movement in the camps, it is no
surprise that the Moroccan governments prediction of mass defections during the UN

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sponsored family visits between Saharawis in the camps and Saharawis in the Moroccan controlled Western Sahara failed to materialise.
What are the implications of the return of nationalist Saharawi refugees to the
occupied territories under the terms offered, for instance, under the Baker II plan?
What would become of the Saharawi nationalist structure, or can autonomic conditions in Morocco allow for the existence of an overt Saharawi nationalism?
These questions are especially important considering the growing display of nationalist sentiment among the Saharawis in occupied Western Sahara.
Saharawi Nationalism in the Occupied Territory
The assumptions that the Saharawi independence struggle would die out have been as
ill founded as the hope that the project of Moroccanisation in the Occupied Territories would bring about the assimilation of Saharawis into the Moroccan polity.
The Moroccanisation of Western Sahara has been successful to the extent that it
has managed to tip the demographic balance so that Moroccan settlers outnumber
Saharawis.53 The attempt to integrate the Saharawi population into this populace
has been less successful. After 30 years of occupation, social interaction between
the Saharawis and Moroccan settler communities is mostly limited to the commercial
level.54 Moroccos developments in Western Sahara, including its programme to
attract and subsidise settlers, have not benefited Saharawis. A sharp division exists
between Morocan settlers and Saharawis in terms of employment opportunities and
living standards. Western Sahara has the lowest rate of economic activity and the
highest unemployment rate of any recorded region, with an estimated 90 per cent
of jobs provided by the state, many of which have been artificially created.55 A Saharawi underclass inhabits shantytowns in cities such as Layounne, Western Saharas
capital, comparable in deprivation to Sub-Saharan Africa.56
Occupied Western Sahara has been tightly controlled and kept under heavy surveillance since the occupation began in 1975. US Republican diplomat Frank Ruddy has
compared Western Sahara in the early 1990s to the Apartheid era in South Africa
during the 197080s.57 The Moroccan policy of disappearance began at the time
of the invasion and continued into the 1990s, and although cases of disappearance
decreased under international criticism, Freedom House reports, the arbitrary arrest,
torture and ill-treatment of Saharawi militants in the disputed Western Sahara territory
continue.58 In 2003 Amnesty International reported the imprisonment of several Saharawi human rights and civil society activists for their peaceful views in favour of an independent Western Sahara.59 Human rights protection by MINURSO in Western Sahara
has been non-existent; a habit that has continued since the UN first arrived to the territory in 1975. As Shelley records, under such conditions the means of resistance
have been limited, at times reduced simply to the maintenance of a collective Saharawi
identity.60 The failure to invest in Saharawi human capital and years of repression and
human rights abuses has ensured the development and preservation of a Saharawi
nationalist sentiment inside the occupied territory.
Stories of human rights violations and repression in occupied Western Sahara
have filtered into the refugee camps over the years and have festered, developing

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into a fear amongst the refugees that Moroccos aim is to eradicate the Saharawi
identity.61 In Morocco the Sahara question is a taboo subject and it is illegal for
the press to debate the question of Saharan independence. The official government
line is that the Saharawis are held as captives in Tindouf by the Polisario
separatists. Separatist demonstrations in the occupied territories are denounced
as criminal acts fuelled by economic rather than political demands.62 The overwhelming consensus among Moroccans is that the Sahara is Moroccan.
Virtually no groundwork has been laid by external agencies to build links between
Moroccan and Saharawi communities, and no preparation for the return of 165,000
refugees to the territories has been made. Recent attempts to establish contact
between the Saharawi residents of the camps and those in the occupied territory
have been the only activity that could be counted as contributing towards confidence
building since the 1991 ceasefire.63
The return of 165,000 nationalist Saharawi refugees to join Saharawis in the occupied territory will result in a strengthened Saharawi nationalism, which must co-exist
with the settler population and 200,000 Moroccan military personnel. The potential
for communal conflict in such a scenario is evident. Bakers last proposal assigned
the Moroccan authorities the responsibility for national security in Western Sahara
during the five year transition period, including the preservation of territorial integrity
against secessionist attempts, whether from within or outside the Territory.64 Such a
clause could easily be interpreted by the Moroccan authorities as a carte blanche to
deem any overt expression of Saharawi nationalism a threat to internal security.

The 1999 and 2005 Saharawi intifadas


The pro-independence demonstrations of May June 2005 in Western Sahara and
Morocco and the ensuing violence perpetrated by the Moroccan authorities against
Saharawis must be placed in the context of the last six years of developments of a
civil rights movement from within the occupied territory. The intifada which
occurred there in 1999 marked the beginning of a movement within Western
Sahara to construct tentatively the contours of a Saharawi civil society.
The 1999 intifada started as a sit-in organised by students outside administrative
buildings in Layounne, and soon spread to other cities. Saharawi demonstrations
gained the support of other Saharawi civil rights groups, such as former phosphate
mine workers, unemployed professionals and the disabled. Significantly, the
ensuing weeks of spontaneous demonstrations were joined by impoverished ethnic
Saharawis from Morocco, brought into the Western Saharan territory to live in
tightly controlled camps and win the referendum for Morocco. The participation of
these supposedly pro-Moroccan Saharawis in the demonstrations, according to
Toby Shelley, had a direct impact on the Moroccan decision to reject the Baker
II plan:
[It] shook the Moroccan authorities and contributed to a nervous rethinking of
the arithmetic of a referendum and the subsequent refusal to allow a vote even
under the massively favourable terms of the Baker II plan.65

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In spite of violent retaliations from the Moroccan authorities, subsequent protests


have become more overtly nationalist, more widespread and frequent. Interestingly,
pro-Polisario demonstrations have spread north of the international border into
towns in Southern Morocco which have a high ethnic Saharawi population.66 One
of these towns, Assa, has been the most militant and is the home of Ali Tamek, the
human rights activist who became an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.
Tamek is one of a new generation of Saharawi leaders to emerge from the 1999
intifada.
As a result of the 1999 uprising, which garnered a good deal of popular support, a
civil society began to emerge: families of the disappeared, previously not daring to
speak about their experiences, began to form groups, links were made between activists and human rights groups, and a committee of the unemployed was formed
(although it was closed down soon after and the organisers jailed).67 Students at universities in Morocco began to increase their activities through meetings and protests
on campuses. The Moroccan Human Rights Association (AMDH), began working
with pro-independence Saharawi activists, and the Moroccan NGO, Forum for
Truth and Justice (FTV), admitted a Sahara section, (although this was banned by
the Moroccan government in 2003).
The intifada of May June 2005 is the culmination of the increased boldness and
organisation of activity which has been taking place in the years following the events
of 1999. The latest demonstrations had a significantly clearer pro-independence
element, were larger and more organised, and can explain why Morocco reacted
with an even harsher response than in 1999.
Moroccos Need for an Exit Strategy
The 2005 events in Western Sahara and Morocco have further confirmed that the
third way option is a threat to the Moroccan state. A nationalist Saharawi community, larger in numbers following the return of refugees from Tindouf, Mauritania and
elsewhere, is not going to accept an erosion of autonomy powers granted through the
third way option such as the Baker II plan. It is highly unlikely that a strengthened
Saharawi nationalist community can be guaranteed the freedom to express its identity
and nationalist views. Even if Morocco was able to guarantee the Saharawis autonomy this places Morocco in a difficult situation, in that any meaningful autonomy for
the Saharawis is highly likely to provoke demands for autonomy from other regions in
Morocco proper. Morocco has promised decentralisation to regions such as the Rif in
the north and Oued Noun in the south, and has persistently failed to deliver.68
The 2005 uprising occurs in the context of increased disillusionment with the situation in Morocco among ordinary Moroccans, notably increased poverty69 and a
clamp down on civil liberties since the Casablanca bombings of May 2003 which
were carried out by Islamists native to the slums of the city. Moroccos fragile
domestic situation is reflected in the rise of radical Islam in recent years and that
some 100,000 Moroccans attempt to migrate to Europe each year. This situation
has been exacerbated by the cost of conflict in Western Sahara, which during the
1980s was estimated at being a drain on the Moroccan economy of between US$1

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million and US$2 million a day.70 The costs of maintaining the occupation, including
the upkeep of the berm and 200,000 military personnel are still high.
It is only a matter of time before Moroccans begin to openly question the logic of the
continued occupation of Western Sahara. Although Morocco tries to control the information that leaves the territory as well as the information given to ordinary Moroccans
it is becoming more of a challenge. One journalist, (sentenced to five years in jail for
insulting the king through a satirical article, but released after international pressure)
visited the refugee camps in 2004 and reported in a Moroccan newspaper that the Saharawis there, contrary to Moroccan government propaganda, are not hostages. The impact
of the 2005 clashes will generate further debate among ordinary Moroccans and contribute to the increase of pressure from within Morocco. In light of such circumstances,
the managed withdrawal of Morocco from the Western Sahara, with the help of the
international community, may be the only way for Morocco to save face and to
avoid the likelihood of more violence to come.
Western Saharan Oil and the US Position
The prospect of Western Saharan oil has added a further layer of complexity to the
conflict over Western Sahara. The Polisario responded to the 2001 Moroccan exploration contracts with the announcement later that year of a similar exploration contract
between the SADR and Fusion Oil, an independent Australian oil company.
In April 2005 the Polisario held a conference in London and announced the licensing bid for twelve offshore and onshore Western Sahara exploration licences. Some
companies have been dissuaded by the legal and political uncertainty of the situation,
but the act of announcing the bid in itself was important for the Polisario to present itself
as a credible future government of an independent Western Sahara. However, it might
also be regarded as a sign of the Polisarios increasingly desperate bid for a solution.
Yet, the question as to the legality of the Moroccan oil contracts had the merit of
reaffirming the legal position of the Saharawis. The UN legal council ruled, in February 2002, that the principle of permanent sovereignty over resources lay with
the Saharawis as the indigenous people of the territory. Furthermore the ruling
stated that:
. . . 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 international law principles applicable to mineral resource
activities in Non-Self-Governing Territories.71
The ruling gave a boost to the Polisario position and to international campaigners
calling for the withdrawal of Total and Kerr McGee.72 The principle of permanent
sovereignty over resources offers new grounds for pro-Saharawi campaigns and a
new theme on which to pin their struggle, as it places itself among issues pertaining
to indigenous peoples rights to land, which have gained increased attention in recent
years among the international NGO community.
The recent oil finds in neighbouring Mauritania will no doubt increase the pressure
for a resolution of the legal position regarding Western Sahara. In the meantime,

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however, the US company Kerr McGee has signed a further six months contract with
Morocco, committing itself to riding out the UN peace process in spite of increasingly
well coordinated campaigns from the international solidarity movement for Western
Sahara.
The increased profile of the US in the Sahara region and the prospect of oil may
place the Western Sahara issue higher on the agenda of the US, but as yet the position
of the US is ambiguous. The UN legal ruling on the oil contracts provoked a statement
of US policy on the Western Sahara. In response to a question from Republican
Congressman Joe Pitts regarding the Free Trade Agreement with Morocco, US
Trade Representative Robert Zoellick stated:
sovereignty of Western Sahara is in dispute . . . The United States and many
other countries do not recognise Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
[And] the FTA will cover trade and investment in the territory of Morocco as
recognized internationally and will not include Western Sahara.73
In spite of its obvious historic support for the integration of Western Sahara into
Morocco, the US has not been willing to forsake international law entirely to give
legitimisation to Moroccos occupation. In addition to the balancing act with
Algeria, the pro-Saharawi lobby in the US Congress, comprising both Republicans
and Democrats, which has consistently supported the Saharawis right to selfdetermination, has been an important factor.
In fact, the Polisario has received curious support from elements from the Republican right74 and it is possible that some of this support is linked to the question of oil
and governance. A priority for the US in countries where strategic interests are concerned is to ensure that friendly regimes are in power. A Western Sahara governed
by an increasingly unstable Morocco facing the threat of Islamic fundamentalists
rising to power may be less attractive to some members of the US congress than an
independent Western Sahara governed by a regime that has proven thus far to be
moderate, peaceful and cooperative.
US plans for the future of Western Sahara remain unclear, and depend on the strategy for the region as a whole. Given the dramatic change in the role and involvement
of the US in North and West Africa over the last three years, the position of the US is
complex and as yet uncertain.75
Conclusion
The question of Western Sahara is one of international legality. In spite of Moroccos
ideological position, it is a decolonisation issue that has yet to be resolved through the
United Nations. Unfortunately however, the last few years of UN negotiations have
succeeded in turning the issue into a negative zero-sum game, which has resulted
in a drawn out political process and which now has to find a compromise. The
UNSC has extended the mandate of MINURSO once again until October 2005.
As the political stalemate continues, the increasingly lengthy status quo situation
favoured by Morocco and supported by the powers has certain repercussions.
Although Realpolitik dominates the Western Sahara conflict, the Saharawis are far

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from passive observers of their fate. Events on the ground will prove crucial for determining the future character of the struggle and there is no doubt that the threat of the
Western Sahara conflict reverting to violence is greater than ever.
After the last 14 years of peaceful struggle through diplomatic means for an issue
that has the clear backing of international law, to reduce this conflict to violence and
loss of life would be a betrayal of the Saharawis right to self-determination and the
principle of self-determination itself.

NOTES
1. The right of self-determination is inscribed in the Declaration on the Granting of Independence of
Colonial countries and Peoples, contained in Resolution 1514 (XV) of December 14, 1960.
2. D. Seddon, Polisario and the struggle for the Western Sahara: Recent Developments, 1987 1989,
Review of African Political Economy (ROAPE) 4546 (Summer 1989), pp. 133 142.
3. The transfer of power to Morocco and Mauritania through the Madrid Accords had no legal validity
and the agreement was never recognised by the United Nations. Spain remains the official administrative power of Western Sahara.
4. The Green March, orchestrated by King Hassan (with the support of US Secretary of State Henry
Kissinger), was fuelled by the Istiqlal movements Greater Morocco thesis. This nationalist thesis,
developed by the Istiqlal party which won independence from France in 1956, includes claims to
Mauritania, parts of Algeria and Mali and the Spanish Islands of Ceuta and Melilla, as well as
Western Sahara.
5. http://www.icj-cij.org/icjwww/idecisions/isummaries/isasummary751016.htm
6. The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed the use of napalm in the Moroccan attacks
against Saharawi civilians. D. Seddon, Morocco and the Western Sahara, ROAPE 38 (1987),
pp. 2447.
7. A peace agreement was signed between Mauritania and the SADR in Algiers in 1979, in which
Mauritania withdrew from the unjust war in Western Sahara and relinquished all claims to the
Western Sahara territory. Ibid.
8. Seddon (note 6), p. 28, describes the formidable berm as consisting:
of sandbanks, between six and eight feet high for the most part, protected by barbed wire and minefields, intermittent artillery placements and observation posts, and equipped with electronic ground
sensors and radar equipment to detect movement up to several miles in the desert outside. . .manned
along its entire length, with protective dug-outs and more elaborate underground quarters for the
troops concerned.
9. A rough estimate of the number of Saharawis living in the territory controlled by Morocco suggests
90,000 Saharawis, whilst approximately 165,000 Saharawis live in the refugee camps. T. Shelley,
Endgame in the Western Sahara: What future for Africas last colony (London: Zed Books 2004), p. 88.
10. The Polisario Front was recognised as the representative of the people of the Western Sahara in UNGA
resolutions of November 1979 and 1980.
11. Spain conducted a census of the territory in 1974, by request of the UNGA, which identified 73,497
indigenous Saharawis. J. Chopra, Decolonizing Western Sahara, LOuest Saharien 1(1998).
12. Ibid. p. 143.
13. The fact finding mission undertaken by Human Rights Watch in 1995 concluded that:
Morocco, which is the stronger of the two parties both militarily and diplomatically, has regularly
engaged in conduct that has obstructed and compromised the fairness of the referendum process.
Western Sahara, Keeping it Secret, The United Nations Operation in the Western Sahara, Human
Rights Watch (1995), p. 4.
14. As Chopra (note 11), p. 143, notes:
Morocco refused to cooperate or even permit deployment of the operation or its freedom of movement: of the 1695 military and 1600 civilian personnel called for by the mission, never more than
375 military observers, headquarters and support unit staff reached the field.

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15. Y. Zoubir and K. Benabdullah-Gambier, Morocco, Western Sahara and the Future of the Maghrib,
Journal of North African Studies 9/1 (2004), pp. 49 77.
16. Morocco attempted to expand the electoral role to tip the balance in its favour by including populations
linked indirectly to the territory which would not be permitted under the original voter criteria. The
Polisario argued that the 1974 census was the only basis for the accurate definition of people with
the legitimate right of self-determination. Chopra (note 11), p. 145.
17. Zoubir and Benabdullah-Gambier (note 15), p. 54.
18. United Nations Security Council Report of the Secretary General on the Situation concerning Western
Sahara, S/2000/683, 12 July 2000.
19. Ibid.
20. Zoubir and Benabdullah-Gambier (note 15), p. 55.
21. United Nations Security Council Report of the Secretary General on the situation concerning Western
Sahara, S/2003/565, 23 May 2003, Annex II.
22. Ibid. Annex III.
23. Ibid.
24. See James Bakers interview with PBS in which he stated:
The closer we got to implementing [the peace plan] the more nervous I think the Moroccans got
about whether they might not win that referendum.
Interview with James Baker, Wide Angle, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)TV, 19 August 2004.
25. A. Sola Martin, The contribution of critical theory to new thinking on peacekeeping: lessons from
MINURSO Working paper 15 (Centre for Conflict Resolution, Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford 2005).
26. Morocco has no known domestic oil reserves.
27. United Nations Security Council, S/2002/161,12 February 2002.
28. George W. Bush, Address to a joint Session of Congress and the American People, 20 September
2001, www.whitehouse.gov.
29. J. Keenan, Terror in the Sahara: the implications of US imperialism for North and West Africa,
ROAPE. 31/101(2004), pp. 475496.
30. The terrorist threat in the Sahara gave cause to send some 1000 US Special Forces under the Pan-Sahel
Initiative (PSI), into the Sahelian states of Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad in January 2004 to train
local military units in counter-terrorism. The PSI was expanded in 2005 to include Morocco, Algeria,
Tunisia and Senegal and renamed the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative (TSCTI). Although
denied by the US, this military presence also includes the securement of US basing rights, notably the
new military air base being constructed at Tamanrasset in southern Algeria. Ibid.
31. Reliable, Affordable and Environmentally Sound Energy for Americas Future, Report of the national
Energy Policy Group, May 2001. http://www.whitehouse.gov
32. Ibid. p. xv.
33. Keenan (note 29). Keenan argues that most of the terror incidents in the Sahara-Sahel have been
fabricated by US and Algerian military-intelligence services.
34. Ibid. Algeria has shifted its status from international pariah in the eyes of the west to the USs main
regional ally under the PSI-TSCTI. The Algerian military gains access to the high tech military technology which it has been seeking to replenish its supplies.
35. Zoubir and Benabdullah-Gambier (note 15), p. 61.
36. Ibid. p. 62.
37. Ibid. p. 62.
38. Note 21. Annex III.
39. Ibid. Annex III.
40. Shelley (note 9), p. 41.
41. Algeria has shown consistent support for self-determination struggles such as the former Portuguese
colonies and the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa.
42. Zoubir and Benabdullah-Gambier (note 15).
43. As one Algerian journalist stressed, the area of Tindouf which hosts the Saharawis has strong emotional
ties within the Algerian military and this alone rules out ever abandoning the Saharawis. (Interview
with the author, April 2005).
44. However, it should be noted that the two countries have avoided the Western Sahara issue poisoning
relations at all levels. Morocco and Algeria have been careful not to jeopardise economic relations,
such as the gas pipeline that links Spain to Algeria via Morocco. Zoubir and Benabdullah-Gambier
(note 15).

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45.
46.
47.
48.
49.
50.

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51.

52.
53.
54.
55.
56.
57.
58.
59.
60.
61.
62.
63.
64.
65.
66.
67.
68.
69.
70.
71.
72.
73.
74.

75.

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www.arso.org
Report of the Secretary General on the situation concerning Western Sahara, 19 April 2005, S/2005/254.
J. Keenan, Political destabilisation and Blowback in the Sahel, ROAPE 31/102 (2004), pp. 691 703.
Interviews undertaken by the author in the Saharawi refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria, March 2003.
P. San Martin, Briefing: Western Sahara: Road to Perdition?, African Affairs, 103/413 (2004),
pp. 651660.
Although the Polisario leadership claims that they are not concerned and know the identity of the
secret group nonetheless, it demonstrates that there are elements among the Sahararwis willing to
take drastic measures to break the impasse.
A violation of the ceasefire would be designed to send a political message to the US and Europe, as it is
unlikely that a return to armed conflict would be supported by Algeria. However, the repercussions of
such action would be severe, especially in the event of Moroccan retaliation. It should be remembered
however, that Polisario fighters on the front line are still in a situation of war and their readiness
to return to armed combat in the advent of failure to resolve the conflict by diplomatic means is
well-voiced.
P. San Martin, From Refugees to Citizens: Nationalism and Identity in the Saharawi Refugee Camps,
paperpresented at the II UEA Saharan Studies Programme Conference: The Sahara: Past, Present and
Future, University of East Anglia, Norwich, 22 24 June 2004. (Also published in this volume).
Estimates of the size of the population of Western Sahara vary but most suggest that non-Saharawis
make up about three-quarters of the population, excluding the military.
Shelley (note 9), p. 83.
Ibid.
Ibid. p. 86.
Note 45.
Countries at the Crossroads: A Survey of Democratic Governance: Morocco, Freedom House (April
2004). http://www.freedomhouse.org/research/crossroads/2004/Morocco2004.pdf
Amnesty International Report 2003, http://web.amnesty.org/report2003/index-eng.
The reproduction of the resistance identity involves the maintenance of cultural and ethnic signifiers
through the use of Hassaniya dialect, diet, traditional dress, teaching desert skills to children and choosing to pray outside rather than in a mosque. Shelley (note 9), p. 110.
Note 48.
Shelley (note 9), p.110.
In 2004 the UNHCR began a pilot phase of visits between the camps and occupied areas for family
members that have been divided, some since the beginning of the conflict.
Note 21, annex II.
T. Shelley, Burden or benefit? Morocco in the Western Sahara, text of a lecture given at the Middle
East Studies Centre, Oxford University, 18 February 2005.
Historically Western Sahara begins where the mountains end, but this area was carved by the colonial
powers, leaving a large area of Western Sahara in Morocco from the late 1950s. Many towns in
southern Morocco have large ethnic Saharawi populations.
Shelley (note 9).
Shelley (note 65).
Official unemployment rates in Morocco in 2000 were 21.5 per cent, GNP per capita 1999 was $3,000,
adult literacy 48 per cent. Shelley (note 9), p. 52.
Shelley (note 9), p. 54.
Note 27.
After one such successful campaign the Norwegian government demanded the Norwegian company
TGS-Nopec withdraw from a contract with Total and issue a public apology. Note 45.
Letter from the US Trade Representative to Congressman Joe Pitts, 22 July 2004
One example is John Bolton, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, and who was the first President
of the Association of Jurists for Western Sahara in the mid 1990s. Although not explicitly pro-Polisario
he has been a firm supporter of the UN decolonisation and self-determination mandates (in spite of his
reputation as a notorious critic of the UN body).
For further discussion refer to J. Keenan, Waging War on Terror: the implications of Americas new
imperialism for Saharan peoples, in this volume.