The Western Sahara conflict
Western Sahara, called Moroccan Sahara in Morocco, is a land of 266,000 square kilometers of northwestern Africa, bordered by Morocco to the north, Algeria on northeast, Mauritania on the south while its west coast overlooks on Atlantic Ocean. Vast desert territory but which has rich deposits of phosphates and which seafront to the Canaries has a great potential of fisheries. This former Spanish colony has not yet found a permanent status in legal terms, more than thirty years after the departure of Spanish authorities in 1975, Western Sahara is actually experiencing conflict reflects from two sides, first one; the struggle of some Sahrawis (autochthones) who claims their independence and the second sovereignty’s rivalry between Algeria and Morocco in the region. By 1973 was founded the Frente Popular de Liberación of Saguia el Hamra y Río de Oro (Polisario), a movement claiming the total independence of Western Sahara. Yet, since the Spanish colonization, Morocco expected to annex this territory after the Decolonization that took place in 1975 as a result of negotiations between Spain and Morocco. Algeria contested by supporting militarily, financially and diplomatically the Polisario Front. The Moroccan-Algerian territorial conflicts represent a case that reflects the complexity and the specificity of each territorial dispute. Historical, geographical, linguistic and above all religious affinities did not preclude both states from engaging in a military clash known as the October 1963 Sand War. Both colonial legacy represented by ambiguous borders between the two states and the indifference of the Algerian government of the time to the 1962 Moroccan-Algerian treaty could be seen as the main reasons of the war. The ongoing crisis of the Western Sahara, claimed by the Polisario Front and supported by the Algerian government, increased the hardening of an already existing Moroccan-Algerian antagonism. To this effect, the purpose of this essay is to examine the territorial explanation of conflict. It discusses how borders are so important to Morocco and Algeria that they directly contributed to extreme levels of rivalry escalation between the two ‘brother enemies’. This explains the difficulty of achieving a settlement, despite the ongoing efforts of the United Nations since 1965, and particularly the United Nations Mission for the organization of a referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) since 1991. Negotiations are currently in a decisive stage, described by the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, James Baker, "last chance." It is urgent to put an end to a particularly long conflict, which has dramatic consequences for refugees, prisoners of war and political prisoners, and harms the development of the Maghreb and good relations between regional actors. Western Sahara is one of the few areas that is still on the list of non-autonomous territories established by the United Nations.
Three decades of impasse:
This chapter starts with a brief overview on the question of sovereignty that combines concernedly the Maghreb countries i.e. Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania that have ancient and strong historical, cultural, political, economical and demographical alliances. Who holds sovereignty over Western Sahara?
Since the Madrid agreement marking the Spanish colonization withdrawal until the establishment of MINURSO in 1991, the question of Western Sahara has become a regional conflict. By adopting strategies in the regional level, the Maghreb countries clashed indirectly, while the conflict falls within the historical context of decolonization, involving the Sahrawi’s right to dispose of their proper territory, any new emerging state is likely to pose threats to the already existing boundaries. In June 2001, the UN Security Council unanimously accepted the new plan, which consisted of granting the local population of Western Sahara extensive...
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