Western Sahara: disputed desert land
The disputed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, has long been a bone of contention on the international scene
Rabat, (APP – UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News – September 29, 2021): The disputed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, has long been a bone of contention on the international stage.
In the latest twist, the highest court of the European Union canceled two trade agreements with Morocco on Wednesday after a case brought by the Front Polisario movement supported by Algeria, which seeks to obtain the independence of the territory.
Morocco, which controls 80% of Western Sahara, has proposed autonomy but maintains that the territory is a sovereign part of the kingdom.
– Desert and Ocean – Western Sahara lies at the western edge of the vast desert, stretching approximately 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) of Atlantic coast.
Its inhospitable land only supports around 650,000 people.
When Spain withdrew in 1975, its northern neighbor, Morocco, moved in, claiming the territory as part of its kingdom.
But it clashed with the Polisario Front, which took up arms to fight for independence, the International Court of Justice having ruled in favor of self-determination.
In November 1975, 350,000 Moroccans took part in the so-called Green March at the border, to assert the kingdom’s claim to the territory’s large phosphate reserves and the rich offshore fisheries.
The following year, the Polisario Front proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), with the support of allies including Cuba and neighboring Algeria, its most important support.
– Sand wall – The Polisario first gained the upper hand, before being pushed inside.
During the 1980s, Morocco built a wall of sand to keep Polisario fighters away from the territory it controlled.
The outermost defensive line stretches over 2,700 kilometers, encircling the part of Western Sahara now under Moroccan control.
It is fortified with barbed wire and trenches, and is one of the largest minefields in the world.
The SADR is a member of the African Union, but controls less than 20 percent of the territory, which is mostly desert.
– Troubled region – The United Nations has failed to find a lasting settlement since negotiating a ceasefire on the Line of Control in 1991.
A referendum he organized on the future of Western Sahara in 1992 was aborted as both sides clashed over who was eligible to vote.
Since 2007, Rabat has refused any referendum and only offers autonomy instead of independence.
– Morocco-Algeria tensions – The conflict has long poisoned Morocco’s relations with neighboring Algeria.
Their border has been closed since 1994 and between 100,000 and 200,000 Sahrawi refugees live in camps around the Algerian desert town of Tindouf.
In August, Algeria severed diplomatic relations with Morocco, accusing Rabat of “hostile actions”.
On September 22, Algiers closed its airspace to Moroccan planes.
– Failed talks – Relaunched at the end of 2018 after a long pause, talks between Morocco, the Polisario Front, Algeria and Mauritania have been deadlocked since the resignation in 2019 of the UN representative for Western Sahara.
In September 2021, Morocco said it had accepted the appointment of former UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura to this post.
UN reports have highlighted human rights violations committed by Morocco in the territory and deteriorating conditions in the Tindouf camps.
– Migrant pressure on Spain – In April, Polisario leader Brahim Ghali traveled to Spain, apparently for treatment for Covid-19, a decision, according to Madrid, which was taken for reasons humanitarian aid but which caused a diplomatic crisis between Morocco and Spain.
In May, between 8,000 and 10,000 migrants crossed Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta from Morocco, in what some saw as a ploy by Rabat to put pressure on Madrid.
– Diplomacy – About twenty countries have opened diplomatic offices in the Moroccan cities of Laâyoune and Dakhla.
In December of last year, the United States recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara as part of a normalization agreement between Rabat and Israel.