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Situation in Western Sahara

The situation in Western Sahara is based on the conflict between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front. Western Sahara was a Spanish colony, until 1975 when Morocco invaded it. Ever since that day, there’s been an ongoing conflict. While the Polisario Front proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in 1976, the Kingdom of Morocco still refuses to recognize sovereignty. Tensions between two sides deepened in November 2020. Peaceful protests in SADR caused the blocking of a controversial road connecting Morocco to sub-Saharan Africa, which led to Morocco launching a military operation.

Polisario Front is Sahrawi rebel national liberation movement aiming to end Moroccan presence in Western Sahara. The UN considers the Polisario Front to be the legitimate representative of Sahrawi people, who have the right to self-determination. Furthermore, the UN addressed the conflict between Polisario Front and Morocco via resolution reaffirming the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determinate. This ongoing conflict started from an insurgency by the Polisario Front against Spanish colonial forces from 1973 – 1975. The subsequent war was between Western Sahara War against Morocco between 1975 – 1991. The conflict escalated after the withdrawal of Spain from the Spanish Sahara in accordance with the Madrid Accords. Today, this conflict is dominated by unarmed civil campaigns of the Polisario Front and their self-proclaimed SADR state (Sahrawi Arab Deomcratic Republic) to gain fully recognized independence for Western Sahara. To date, large parts of Western Sahara are controlled by the Moroccan Government. At the same time, 20% of the Western Sahara territory remains controlled by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, the Polisario state with limited international recognition.

The UN recognizes neither Moroccan nor SADR sovereignity over Western Sahara. Moroccan settlers currently make up more than two thirds of the 500,000 inhabitants of Western Sahara. The United Nations-sponsored process of negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front, the liberation movement that seeks self-determination for Western Sahara, most of which is under de facto Moroccan control, remained stalled after the resignation in May 2019 of Horst Kohler, the envoy of the UN secretary-general. Kohler had not been replaced at time of writing. Morocco proposes for Western Sahara a measure of autonomy under Moroccan rule but rejects a referendum on independence, which the conflict parties agreed upon in the context of a UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991. Moroccan authorities systematically prevent gatherings in the Western Sahara supporting Sahrawi self-determination, obstruct the work of some local human rights nongovernmental organizations, including by blocking their legal registration, and on occasion beat activists and journalists in their custody and on the streets. Polisario Front, backed by Algeria and Libya, strive to end Morrocan presence in Western Sahara and gain a sovereign and internationally recognized state for Sahrawi people.

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