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Western Sahara Alexis Arieff

Western Sahara

Alexis Arieff

Published April 14th 2013
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Kindle Edition
20 pages
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 About the Book 

Since the 1970s, Morocco and the independence-seeking Popular Front for the Liberation of Saqiat al Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario) have vied, at times violently, for control of the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony. In 1991, the UnitedMoreSince the 1970s, Morocco and the independence-seeking Popular Front for the Liberation of Saqiat al Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario) have vied, at times violently, for control of the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony. In 1991, the United Nations (U.N.) arranged a cease- fire and proposed a settlement plan that called for a referendum to allow the people of the Western Sahara to choose between independence and integration into Morocco. A long deadlock on determining the electorate for a referendum ensued. The U.N. then unsuccessfully suggested alternatives to the unfulfilled settlement plan and later called on the parties to negotiate. In April 2007, Morocco offered a plan for increased regional autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. The Moroccan government and the Polisario have met under U.N. auspices since 2007, but have made no progress on a settlement due to an apparent unwillingness to compromise. U.N. Special Envoy Christopher Ross, a U.S. diplomat, has convened informal talks and—more recently—initiated shuttle diplomacy between Morocco, the Polisario, and regional and European leaders.Morocco controls roughly 80% of the disputed territory and considers the whole area part of its sovereign territory. In line with his autonomy initiative, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has pursued policies of decentralization that he says are intended to empower residents of his Saharan provinces. The Polisario has a government in exile, the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which is hosted and backed by neighboring Algeria. The Western Sahara issue has stymied Moroccan-Algerian bilateral relations, Moroccan relations with the African Union, and regional cooperation on economic and security issues. International attention to the issue appears to have increased over the past year amid growing concerns over regional terrorist threats.The United States has not recognized the SADR or Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara. The United States has supported the U.N. mediation effort, has referred to the Moroccan autonomy proposal as “serious, realistic, and credible,” and has urged the parties to negotiate a mutually acceptable solution—an outcome that would not destabilize its ally, Morocco. The United States contributes funds, but no manpower, to the U.N. Mission for the Organization of a Referendum in the Western Sahara (MINURSO). MINURSO was initially focused on organizing a referendum, but its role now is to monitor the 1991 cease-fire. MINURSO’s current mandate expires on April 30, 2013. The U.N. Secretary-General recently urged diplomats to focus on resolving the Western Sahara issue because the standoff is impeding international responses to growing security threats in the region. The Secretary-General also recommended including human rights monitoring in MINURSO’s mandate, which Morocco adamantly opposes.Morocco and the Polisario, and advocates on both sides, regularly appeal to Congress to support their positions. Some Members of Congress support an independence referendum and are frustrated by delays, while others support Morocco’s position and the autonomy initiative. Congress has periodically required executive branch reporting on human rights in Western Sahara as a condition for allocating certain security assistance for Morocco, including in the FY2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 112-74), as amended and extended via continuing resolutions. The conference report on P.L. 112-74 states that bilateral economic aid for Morocco “may be used in regions and territories administered by Morocco,” an apparent reference to the Western Sahara. It has been U.S. policy that funds for Morocco may not be used for programming in Western Sahara, as this would tacitly accept Moroccan sovereignty. See also CRS Report RS21579, Morocco: Current Issues, by Alexis Arieff.