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The Sahara, a frozen conflict that has lasted almost 50 years

Spain changed this Friday the position that it traditionally maintained by accepting Morocco’s autonomy plan on the Sahara Occidental, a former Spanish colony annexed by its neighboring country with which it has been in conflict for almost 50 years to achieve its independence.

The dispute over the Sahara Occidental began in 1975 when Morocco, taking advantage of the decolonization process initiated by Spain, annexed this territory after crossing its border with the so-called Green March.

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The Green March was an operation organized by King Hasan II on November 6, 1975, in which he placed some 350,000 Moroccan civilians in front of the Spanish border to advance to the defensive walls of the Spanish Army.

This was the response of the Moroccan king to the decolonization process of this semi-desert territory of 266,000 square kilometers, and to the initiative of Spain and the UN to carry out a census as a preliminary step to holding a self-determination referendum.

Hassan II took advantage of the fragility of the Spanish Government and six days before the death of Francisco Franco, on November 14, 1975, the Spanish-Mauritanian-Moroccan Tripartite Agreements were signed in Madrid, by which Spain ceded the northern and central part of the Sahara to Morocco and the south to Mauritania.

Despite the fact that the judgment of the International Court of The Hague of October 16, 1975, contrary to the annexationist claims of Morocco and Mauritania, recommended that the right to self-determination be exercised, the ambiguous text was interpreted by Morocco in its favor.

Thus, on February 27, 1976, Spain definitively withdrew from the Sahara and the Polisario Front unilaterally proclaimed the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in Tindouf (Algeria) and declared war on Morocco and Mauritania.

A Saharan archaeologist and explorer rides his camel after studying rock carvings inscribed in the ancient rock formation, Makhrouga, in Mauritania. (Photo by JOHN WESSELS / AFP) (JOHN WESSELS /)

Mauritania renounced in 1979 to exercise its sovereignty over that part of the territory and signed peace with the Polisario, a circumstance that Morocco took advantage of to annex it.

Since then, most of the territory has been controlled by Morocco while the Polisario, supported by Algeria and Libya, has a small part and has its headquarters in Tindouf.

In 1988, Morocco and the Polisario accepted a UN plan that provided for a ceasefire and control of the United Nations Mission for the referendum (MINURSO).

Three years later, on September 6, 1991, the ceasefire came into force but the consultation was never held due to differences over the composition of the census.

The Polisario defends that the 74,000 Sahrawis registered by the Spanish in 1974, before leaving the territory, are the only ones authorized to participate in the consultation, while Morocco demands to include the nomads who took refuge in its territory during the Spanish colonization (120,000 ), which the Polisario rejected as an attempt to alter the result.

In 1996, the UN temporarily suspended the voter identification process in the face of Morocco’s claims in order to swell the census and in 1997 dialogue was resumed with the new mediator, former United States Secretary of State James Baker, who managed to set for July 2000 consultation, which was never held.

The Baker plan was rejected by the Polisario because it did not contemplate independence and in 2003 it suggested another one that was discarded by Rabat because it did include that option. In 2004 Baker resigned.

Neither did the following mediators reach an agreement, the Dutchman Peter Van Walsum, the American Christopher Ross and the German Horst Köhler, although the latter managed to resume the dialogue in December 2018.

Between 2007 and 2012, several meetings were held in Manhasset, on the outskirts of New York, with no results. In that year, the negotiations were stalled and the parties entrenched in their positions: a self-determination referendum with the option of independence demanded by the Polisario against a maximum offer of autonomy, without a referendum, proposed by Morocco.

It was in December 2018 that, after six years of silence, direct talks resumed in Geneva.

The tension between Rabat and the Polisario has worsened since on October 21, 2020, a group of Saharawi activists blocked the Guerguerat border crossing, an area considered a buffer that in recent years Morocco had helped turn into an active commercial channel with Mauritania. . On November 13, the Moroccan army entered this demilitarized strip and the Polisario declared war on it.

The situation worsened again in December 2020 after the recognition of the Sahara as part of Morocco by the outgoing US president, Donald Trump, in exchange for Rabat establishing relations with Israel, as it happened.

In March 2021, Morocco suspended relations with Germany after summoning its ambassador to Berlin in response to “hostile acts” that it attributed to the German authorities questioning Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara Western.

However, in December 2021, Berlin supported the newly appointed special envoy for the Sahara of the UN Secretary-General, Steffan de Mistura, in his search for a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political outcome on the basis of Security Council resolution 2602.

The situation has taken a turn on March 18, 2022 after the Moroccan royal house assured that the Spanish Government of Pedro Sánchez supports its proposal for autonomy from the Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty presented by Rabat at the UN in 2007, through a letter sent to Mohamed VI.

A change of position by Spain, which until now defended the UN agreements to hold a referendum in the Sahara.

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Source: Elcomercio

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