In 1975, after a century of colonial rule in Western Sahara, Spain agreed to partition the colony between Morocco and Mauritania without consulting the local popluations. The pro-independence Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, opposed the secret deal. It launched an armed liberation struggle and declared the independent Saharan Arab Democratic Republic.
In 1978, weary of fighting the insurgents, Mauritania renounced its territorial claims but Morocco then took control of the entire territory. Polisario continued to fight against Moroccan forces until 1991, when the UN brokered a ceasefire and outlined a settlement plan, calling for a referendum on independence. The UN also established MINURSO, the United Nations Mission for a Referendum in Western Sahara, to monitor and implement the peace plan.
Although both Morocco and the Polisario accepted the plan, the referendum did not take place due to disagreement over voter identification. Eyeing Western Sahara's rich phosphate mines, fishing resources and potential oil reserves, Morocco insisted that some of its nationals be allowed to vote in the referendum and it delayed talks aimed at resolving the issues. Strong economic and security relations of both the US and France with Morocco prompted these two big powers to adopt pro-Morocco positions.
In 2001, UN special envoy James Baker, a former US Secretary of State, proposed a new "Framework Agreement," giving five years of autonomy to Sahara within Morocco, followed by a referendum. While the US and France backed the proposal, the Polisario rejected it. In 2004, the UN Security Council reaffirmed its support for the 1991 UN settlement plan, allowing the people of Western Sahara to determine the future of the disputed territory in a referendum.
May 2005 saw Sahrawi demonstrations openly calling for independence. The Security Council passed Resolution 1720 in October 2006 reaffirming commitment to self-determination but stopped short of coercing Morocco to grant independence. In February 2007, Morocco advised France, the US, Spain and Great Britain on its plan for autonomy and submitted a written proposal to the Security Council in April 2007. UN-mediated talks outside of New York during the summer of 2007 ended inconclusively, with Polisario rejecting any solution short of a referendum for independence.
UN Documents | Articles
A report by the Secretary General on the situation in Western Sahara states that “consolidation of the status quo is not an acceptable outcome.” On April 20, 2009, the Security Council extended the mandate for the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for another year. The unanimously backed Resolution 1871 calls for continued negotiations surrounding a lasting political solution, including self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. Since Morocco took over Western Sahara in 1978, the Polisario Frontas has struggled for the territory’s independence.
Although there has been a lack of progress in negotiations between pro-independence Polasario Front and Morocco on the future of Western Sahara, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1813 extending the UN referendum mission (MINURSO) until April 30, 2009. The Resolution reiterates the Secretary General's demand that the two sides negotiate "without precondition and in good faith" to implement an independence poll for the people of Western Sahara.
Despite the presence of a UN referendum mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO), there has been little progress towards the implementation of an independence poll