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Polisario / Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR)

Frente Popular para la Liberación de
Saguía el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente Polisario)

In 1973 the Frente popular para la Liberacion de Saguia el-Hamra y Rio de Oro (Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro), otherwise known as Polisario, was founded to oppose Spanish colonialism. Polisario came to symbolise the Saharawi desire for independence and the struggle for identity and international acceptance of the Saharawi state. Polisario in February 1976 formally proclaimed a government-in-exile of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), near Tindouf, Algeria, led by President Mohamed ABDELAZIZ.

The territory was partitioned between Morocco and Mauritania in April 1976 when Spain withdrew, with Morocco acquiring northern two-thirds. Mauritania, under pressure from Polisario guerrillas, abandoned all claims to its portion in August 1979. Morocco moved to occupy that sector shortly thereafter and has since asserted administrative control. Polisario's government-in-exile was seated as an Organization of African Unity (OAU) member in 1984. Morocco between 1980 and 1987 built a fortified sand berm delineating the roughly 80 percent of Western Sahara west of the barrier that currently controlled by Morocco.

As of 2017, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic had been recognized by 84 UN member states. Of these, 39 had "frozen" or "withdrawn" recognition. SADR has, at one point or another, been recognised by 43.5% of United Nations (UN) member states, 38 out of 54 (70%) African Union (AU) member states, 18 out of 57 (32%) Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states, and 5 out of 22 (23%) Arab League (AL) member states.

The Polisario Front independence movement condemned on 12 November 2020 a declaration by US President Donald Trump backing Moroccan rule over the disputed Western Sahara region. "The Polisario and Sahrawi government condemn in the strongest terms the fact that outgoing American President Donald Trump attributes to Morocco something which does not belong" to the country, the Sahrawi information ministry said. The US move seemed unlikely to lead other Western states or the UN to abandon their own longstanding position calling for a referendum to resolve the dispute. The UN said its stance was unchanged. Trump said that he had agreed to recognise Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory, while also announcing that Morocco was normalising relations with Israel.

Morocco launched a military operation on 13 November 2020 in the buffer zone of Guerguerat, in the extreme south of the former Spanish colony, to drive out a group of Saharawi militants who were blocking a transit route to neighboring Mauritania. Western Sahara's pro-independence Polisario Front bombarded the Guerguerat buffer zone under Moroccan control in the far south of the desert territory in an overnight attack 24 January 2021 Rabat described as part of a "propaganda war". The Saharawi press agency SPS said in a statement"The Saharawi army launched four rockets in the direction of... Guerguerat," on the border between Morocco and Mauritania, citing a military leader of the separatist Saharawi forces.

The emergence of an Iranian embassy in Algeria in 2018 caused great concern to soem in the Arab world, but then came the arrival of Amir Mousavi into the country, under the auspice of being an Iranian diplomat. Far from being a diplomat looking to enhance cultural ties with Algeria, it soon became apparent that Mousavi was in fact an Iranian intelligence agent, whose remit was to interfere in the dispute between Algeria and Morocco over the Western Sahara conflict.

Iran’s interference in the area, had already led to Morocco to cut diplomatic relations with Tehran, over the so-called Iranian diplomat’s support for the Polisario Front. The cut in ties between the two countries, came about after irrefutable evidence came to light proving that shipments of weapons, which included surface-to-air missiles, comprising of SA-9, SA-22 and Strela shoulder-launched missiles, had been sent to the Algerian-backed Polisario, who were fighting a protracted guerrilla war against Moroccan security forces. The weapons were sent via Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, with evidence also having emerged, how members of the Polisario, were also being trained in urban warfare at a military base in Tindouf, Algeria, where they were being taught how to use ground-air rocket systems.

But one of the most sinister aspects to come to light out of Mousavi’s appearance in Algeria, was the numerous reports about how he had managed to recruit thousands of Shiite youths from impoverished areas in in the country, who will be used by the Iranian regime to destabilise the region.

The Republic of Western Sahara is recognized by a number of African and Latin American countries. Algeria accused Ivory Coast of "shameless violation of international law" and "violation of the obligations of the AU's founding Act" after Abidjan opened a consulate in Western Sahara.

Some of these countries — such as Burundi and Sao Tome — have been attracted by economic benefits. Others, however, had historically close ties to Morocco. The motivation for these African countries to support rich Morocco is obvious: These countries are simply in debt, they have enormous economic difficulties. And they are being paid to do this. The new consulates in the controversial area, which the Moroccan government in the capital Rabat calls its southern provinces, are politically charged. This is an attempt by Morocco to have the occupation of the territories recognized at all costs.

In January 2020, Moroccan lawmakers enacted a law to integrate the Western Sahara waters off the Moroccan sea coast into their claims.

In 1997 the UN began to make some new progress as a result of increased attention given to the dispute by the United States. This was symbolized by the appointment of former US Secretary of State James Baker to be the UN special envoy, who toured the refugee camps and the Morrocan-occupied zone to help prepare for the referendum. With Baker's help, the UN hoped to persuade Morocco and Polisario to agree to a new timetable that would schedule the vote for December 1999, but this has not yet occurred.

Guerrilla activities continued sporadically until a UN-monitored cease-fire was implemented on 6 September 1991 (Security Council Resolution 690) by the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). Some youth see war as the only option, but older Sahrawi who have lived through the war with Morocco during the late 1970s and 1980s support a peaceful solution. Polisario has some mobile multiple rocket launchers that appear old and were probably provided by Algeria. Polisario military service now lasts only two to three months, less than in the past.

Approximately 500,000 people live in Western Sahara, while more than 100,000 Sahrawi refugees reside in Algerian refugee camps. Polisario is fairly good at controlling the territory it administers but, like Algeria, it cannot monitor every inch of such a vast land. Some Algerians and Sahrawis participate in smuggling activities in and around Tindouf and in Western Sahara. However, the Algerian government and the Polisario Front respond harshly to any involvement in the trafficking of weapons, persons, or drugs. They view such activities as a major liability to the Polisario's nationalist cause and demands for Sahrawi self-determination. Algeria and the Polisario turn a blind eye to the smuggling of products such as cigarettes and diesel and that the eastern part of Tindouf is known as "Kandahar" because of the large black market there for smuggled goods.

Locals view the borders as artificial, and there is a lot of corruption and smuggling on both sides of the Algerian-Moroccan border. The Sahrawis look at the Algerian army officials who control checkpoints on the roads near the camps with respect, but see the Algerian gendarmes that monitor the border with Morocco as corrupt and incompetent.

Islamic extremists appear to believe the Sahrawis cater to the West and are not pious enough. They are incensed by the fact that many American NGO workers are connected with U.S. churches and for several years have participated in annual interfaith dialogue seminars at the invitation of Muslim religious leaders in the camps. Nevertheless, they said there have been no incidents against Westerners in the camps, despite the fact that extremist bases are not far away. The Sahrawi are very protective of the foreign workers and at times have supplied extra security to the foreigners traveling outside the camps.

For security reasons and because of informants for the Polisario and Morocco on both sides of the berm, the Polisario carefully vets any newcomers to the camps to ensure that they are not a risk to others or to the Polisario's political goals. New settlers are required by the Polisario to stay in a safe house for approximately two weeks until their identities and backgrounds are verified. There is a particular fear that young men are prone to political or religious corruption.

Since gaining its own independence from France and Spain in 1955, the Moroccan monarchy asserted sovereignty over Spanish Sahara and what was then a large swath of French West Africa, including the whole of Mauritania, part of Mali, and southwestern Algeria. All of these areas had been part of the Moroccan-based Almoravid empire in the 11th and 12th centuries, and thus they rightfully belonged to what was called "Greater Morocco."

In 1975, as Spanish Ruler Francisco Franco lay on his death bed, King Hassan II of Morocco sent 350,000 unarmed Moroccans into Western Sahara and dared the Spanish troops to shoot at them. The Popular Front for the Liberation of the Polisario Front, a Sahrawi national liberation movement, controls fifteen percent of the territory. Approximately 90,000 Sahrawi refugees continue to be sheltered in camps in Tindouf, Algeria, which has hosted Sahrawi refugees since the 1980s. External monitoring conditions in the refugee camps across the border in the desolate Algerian desert is difficult, not because the Polisario Front places obstacles in the way of visitors, but because the camps are isolated and there are few local sources that monitor human rights conditions independently.

Independent from France in 1960, Mauritania annexed the southern third of the former Spanish Sahara (now Western Sahara) in 1976 but relinquished it after three years of raids by the Polisario guerrilla front seeking independence for the territory.

Algieria opposed the Moroccan-Mauritanian take-over of Spanish Sahara and in thelate 1970s continued a limited military build-up in southwestern Algeria adjacent to the Sahara. The Algerian government declared a Sahara solidarity week and staged demonstrations throughout the country. These rallies were clearly intended to arouse anti-Moroccan sentiment, but the government was also trying to develop domestic support for increased Algerian assistance to the Polisario Front. The Algerian media highlighted Polisario claims of military success against Moroccan forces in the Sahara. The Polisario guerrillas cannot defeat the more heavily armed Moroccan army, but with Algerian backing they can probably keep up terrorist and sabotage attacks.

Starting in 1973 Algeria supported Polisario efforts to establish an independent state in the Spanish Sahara. But Algeria did not lift a finger to help the Polisario in pushing its diplomatic interests abroad. . The government of Algeria did little to advance the Polisario's cause diplomatically beyond reciting standard talking points on the right to self-determination. During a tour of Latin America to seek diplomatic recognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, the Algerian government had provided no support. Hotel arrangements and meetings were coordinated mainly out of the Polisario's regional embassy in Havana. Algerian policy was limited strictly to a set of talking points supporting the right of self-determination of the Sahrawi people and the need to resolve the dispute over the Western Sahara in the context of decolonization.

The Algerian government allowed the Polisario to govern the refugee camps and even requires visitors on incoming flights to Tindouf to complete Sahrawi "government" customs' cards, which are then passed on to Algerian officials. The Polisario monitors the checkpoints in and out of the camps, while the Algerian military monitors the checkpoints farther outside the camps and near Tindouf. Sahrawi refugees need identification cards to travel outside of the camps. Sahrawis typically show visitors the camps that are the best organized and with the best living conditions. Smara and Awserd are the better camps, while Dakhla has some of the worst conditions. The "27 February" settlement has good electricity, which is needed to run some of the humanitarian institutions located there, but the four refugee camps lack continuous electricity.

Polisario could not accept using a Moroccan autonomy plan as the basis for discussions on the future of the Western Sahara. For one thing, accepting discussions on autonomy would signal Polisario abandonment of the Sahrawi people's right to self-determination. For another, Morocco had no right to make a one-sided proposal. The conflict is a UN issue, and any discussions should occur within that framework. A referendum was the only way for the Sahrawis to choose independence from Morocco, integration with it, or some form of autonomy. If the Polisario were to acquiesce and accept less than a popular referendum with the option of independence, the Polisario would lose the support of the Sahrawi refugees, who would choose to remain in the camps.

Western Sahara was ruled by Spain for nearly a century until Spanish troops withdrew in 1976, following a bloody guerrilla conflict with the pro-independence Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front). Mauritania and Morocco both ignored Sahrawi aspirations and claimed the resource-rich region for themselves, agreeing to a partition in which Morocco received the northern twothirds. However, the Polisario Front proclaimed an independent Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and continued its guerrilla campaign. Mauritania renounced its claim to the region in 1979, and Morocco filled the vacuum by annexing the entire territory.

Western Sahara is a disputed territory on the northwest coast of Africa bordered by Morocco, Mauritania, and Algeria. After Spain withdrew from its former colony of Spanish Sahara in 1976, Morocco annexed the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara and claimed the rest of the territory in 1979, following Mauritania's withdrawal. A guerrilla war with the Polisario Front contesting Morocco's sovereignty ended in a 1991 cease-fire and the establishment of a UN peacekeeping operation. As part of this effort, the UN sought to offer a choice to the peoples of Western Sahara between independence (favored by the Polisario Front) or integration into Morocco. A proposed referendum never took place due to lack of agreement on voter eligibility. The 2,700 km- (1,700 mi-) long defensive sand berm, built by the Moroccans from 1980 to 1987 and running the length of the territory, continues to separate the opposing forces with Morocco controlling the roughly 80 percent of the territory west of the berm. Local demonstrations criticizing the Moroccan authorities occur regularly, and there are periodic ethnic tensions between the native Sahrawi population and Moroccan immigrants. Morocco maintains a heavy security presence in the territory.

Western Sahara is a disputed territory; 85% is under Moroccan control. It was inhabited almost entirely by Sahrawi pastoral nomads until the mid-20th century. Their traditional vast migratory ranges, based on following unpredictable rainfall, did not coincide with colonial and later international borders. Since the 1930s, most Sahrawis have been compelled to adopt a sedentary lifestyle and to live in urban settings as a result of fighting, the presence of minefields, job opportunities in the phosphate industry, prolonged drought, the closure of Western Sahara’s border with Mauritania from 1979-2002, and the construction of the defensive berm separating Moroccan- and Polisario-controlled (Sahrawi liberalization movement) areas. Morocco supported rapid urbanization to facilitate surveillance and security.

Today more than 80% of Western Sahara’s population lives in urban areas; more than 40% live in the administrative center Laayoune. Moroccan immigration has altered the composition and dramatically increased the size of Western Sahara’s population. Morocco maintains a large military presence in Western Sahara and has encouraged its citizens to settle there, offering bonuses, pay raises, and food subsidies to civil servants and a tax exemption, in order to integrate Western Sahara into the Moroccan Kingdom and, Sahrawis contend, to marginalize the native population.

Western Saharan Sahrawis have been migrating to Europe, principally to former colonial ruler Spain, since the 1950s. Many who moved to refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, also have migrated to Spain and Italy, usually alternating between living in cities abroad with periods back at the camps. The Polisario claims that the population of the Tindouf camps is about 155,000, but this figure may include thousands of Arabs and Tuaregs from neighboring countries. Because international organizations have been unable to conduct an independent census in Tindouf, the UNHCR bases its aid on a figure of 90,000 refugees. Western Saharan coastal towns emerged as key migration transit points (for reaching Spain’s Canary Islands) in the mid-1990s, when Spain’s and Italy’s tightening of visa restrictions and EU pressure on Morocco and other North African countries to control illegal migration pushed sub-Saharan African migrants to shift their routes to the south.

Polisario accepted the UN's Peace Plan for Self-Determination of the People of Western Sahara in July 2003. However, in April 2004 it was rejected by Morocco. United Nations Security Council Resolution No. 1541 adopted April 29, 2004, reaffirmed support for the Peace Plan for Self-Determination of the People of Western Sahara devised by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy, James Baker. Mr. Baker resigned as envoy in June 2004. As late as 2006 the Moroccan Government was saying that the Baker plan was dead and buried, but obviously Algeria and the Polisario were saying otherwise.

Confidence building measures taken by the Polisario Front included the release of a further 643 Moroccan POWs since July 2003; the number of POWs the Polisario had liberated since 1991 now totals 1,760. The Government of King Mohammed VI had not reciprocated in a commensurate way. In 2005 a US presidential mission to Algeria, Morocco, and then to Libya oversaw the release of the last 404 Moroccan prisoners of war held by the Polisario Front. This was the culmination of a great deal of creative United States diplomacy.

In 2007 the first face to face negotiations between representatives of the Moroccan government and the Polisario began under UN auspices, after Morocco offered a political solution based on autonomy for the territory within the Kingdom of Morocco, while the Polisario continued to insist on a potential referendum in which full independence would be an option. By year's end four rounds of talks had taken place in Manhasset, New York. On April 30, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1813, extending MINURSO until April 2009. The resolution also called on member states to consider voluntary contributions to the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) carried out under the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that allow increased contact between family members separated by the dispute. There were no further talks by year's end.

By January 2008 Morocco and the Frente Polisario were still far apart on how to provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, despite the two parties' commitment to a process of negotiations. The talks - attended also by Algeria and Mauritania as neighbouring countries - were limited largely to preliminary discussions on thematic subjects such as administration, competencies and organs, while the parties discussed but did not agree on any confidence-building measures.

The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) observed and recorded 11 new violations by the Royal Moroccan Army between April 2008 and April 2009, a slight decrease compared to the 14 recorded between April 2007 and April 2008, and 7 new violations by the Frente Polisario, a significant decrease compared to the 22 recorded during the same period in 2007-2008. Violations by the Royal Moroccan Army included the construction of living accommodations as well as other administrative buildings in the Mahbas and Oum Dreyga subsectors without authorization by MINURSO, and the continuation of building works after expiry of the authorized time period without request for an extension. The movement of a Royal Moroccan Army logistics convoy on 14 November 2008 and of troops and equipment on four separate occasions in January 2009 without prior notification of MINURSO also constituted violations of military agreement No. 1.

The Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente Polisario) marked its thirty-fifth anniversary on 20 May 2008 and the thirty-third anniversary of the proclamation of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic on 27 February 2009, holding public events on both occasions. On 22 January 2009, the Frente Polisario declared an exclusive economic zone for Western Sahara, which would extend 200 nautical miles from the coast of the Territory. Upon signing the declaration, the Secretary-General of the Frente Polisario, Mohamed Abdelaziz, said in a public statement that the declaration was based on the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination and to permanent sovereignty over their natural resources, and he called on the European Union to suspend its 2005 fisheries agreement with Morocco.

According to the Polisario, in 2008 Morocco continued to withhold information on approximately 150 missing Polisario combatants and supporters whom the Polisario listed by name. Morocco formally denied that any Sahrawi former combatants remained in detention. During the year the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) continued to investigate such Polisario claims, as well as Moroccan claims that the Polisario had not fully divulged information on the whereabouts of 213 Moroccan citizens. The total number of unresolved cases of missing Algerian and Polisario soldiers in which Morocco was implicated decreased from 249 in 1994 to 58 at year's end.

Morocco's foreign minister said March 24, 2016 the government's decision to reduce the number of United Nations staff at the Western Sahara mission is "irreversible." The Moroccan government and the UN had been at odds since Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon visited a camp in Algeria housing refugees from Western Sahara and used the term "occupation" in reference to their plight. Thousands of people demonstrated against the UN across Morocco in response last week, carrying banners like "Ban Ki-moon threatens the U.N. process," denouncing Ban's "lack of neutrality" on the issue.

The Polisario Front which demands the Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco said 01 June 2016 its secretary general Mohamed Abdelaziz died on 31 May 2016 “after a long illness”. Abdelaziz, 69, had been leader of the Algeria-backed Polisario since 1976 after the group was founded three years previously to struggle for independence for the former Spanish colony.

In March 2016, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met Abdelaziz and also said he would spare no effort in trying to find a political solution in the Western Sahara. When he met Ban at a refugee camp in Tindouf in Algeria, Abdelaziz appeared to be in poor health.

He was born in 1946 in Marrakesh in Morocco, the kingdom where he is seen as a traitor to his country. A man of the desert, he spent much of his life with Polisario fighters or Sahrawi refugees at camps in the Tindouf region of southwest Algeria. He was from the Reguibi, one of the three Sahrawi tribes, and was educated in southern Morocco, where his father was in the Royal Moroccan army. In the late 1960s, Abdelaziz first met Sahrawi nationalist militants in Rabat and Casablanca, at Moroccan universities. With Mustapha Sayed El Ouali, he became a founder of the Polisario Front in May 1973 and one of its main military leaders.

Speaking Arabic, French and Spanish in addition to the Sahrawi Hassanya dialect, Abdelaziz was as comfortable in a traditional blue gandoura robe as in a Western suit or plain military fatigues with no badges of rank.

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Page last modified: 26-04-2021 12:37:46 ZULU