Western Sahara (Arabic: الصحراء الغربية Aṣ-Ṣaḥrā’ al-Gharbīyah, Spanish: Sahara Occidental) is a disputed territory in North Africa, contested by Morocco and the Polisario, the front unifying the Saharawi people. The territory is a remnant of the post-colonial period, and to this date a solution is yet to be found.
Western Sahara is bordered by Morocco to the north, Algeria to the northeast, Mauritania to the east and south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The population is estimated at just over 500,000, many of whom live in El Aaiún, the largest city in Western Sahara. Occupied by Spain since the late 19th century, the Western Sahara was in 1975 passed over to a joint administration by Morocco and Mauritania. A long war erupted between Morocco, Mauritania and the Sahrawi National Liberation Movement, the Polisario Front, backed by Algeria and Libya. In 1979, Mauritania withdrew from its territories and whilst Morocco secured effective control of most of the territory, Polisario proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) with a government-in-exile in Tindouf, Algeria.
Following a United Nations-sponsored ceasefire agreement in 1991, most of the territory has been controlled by Morocco and the remainder by the SADR, strongly backed by Algeria. Both Morocco and Polisario have sought to boost their claims by seeking international recognition.
From Spanish Rule to a Chaotic Decolonization
In 1884, at the Berlin Conference, the European colonial powers agreed on the division of spheres of influence in Africa. Spain seized control of the Western Sahara and established a Spanish colony over the coast from Cape Bojador to Cap Blanc. In 1958 Spain merged the previously separate districts of Saguia el-Hamra (in the north) and Río de Oro (in the south) to form the province of Spanish Sahara.
During Spanish rule Saharawi rebellions were not uncommon. The first serious uprising was lead against the French by Ma al-Aynayn, the Saharan pro-Moroccan chief of Tindouf and Smara, in the 1910s, in response to French attempts to expand their influence and control in North-West Africa. After Ma al-Aynayn death in the same year, his son El Hiba continued the fight but his forces were defeated during a failed campaign to conquer Marrakesh, and in retaliation French colonial forces destroyed the holy city of Smara in 1913. Nevertheless, Sahrawi resistance continued for the following twenty years. The rebellious territory was subdued only in 1934, after the second destruction of Smara by joint Spanish and French forces. In 1956, the Ifni War, initiated by the Moroccan Army of Liberation, marked a new conflict in the region and only after two years of war, the Spanish forces regained control, again with French aid. After the events of the Zemla Intifada in 1970, when Spanish police disbanded the organization, Sahrawi nationalism started to organize a military wing.
In 1971 a group of young Sahrawi students in the universities of Morocco began organizing what came to be known as The Embryonic Movement for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro. Failing to obtain backing from several Arab governments, including Algeria and Morocco, the movement relocated to Spanish-controlled Western Sahara to start an armed rebellion.
The POLISARIO Front was formally constituted on 10 May 1973 in the Mauritanian city of Zouirate, with the express intention of militarily forcing an end to Spanish colonization. Its first Secretary General was El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed. The Polisario gradually gained control over large swaths of the Western Saharan desert, and its power grew steadily after early 1975 when the defections by Spanish frontier troops brought weapons and training.
Spanish decolonization, as the Portuguese, started very late if compared to the French-British colonies and followed events in the mother countries. In Spain, internal political crisis and social pressures accelerated the process of decolonization in 1974. Spain began rapidly and even chaotically to disengage itself from Africa and after an initial violent opposition to decolonization, Spain began to negotiate in 1974–75 by issuing promises of a referendum on independence. At the same time, Morocco and Mauritania, which had historical claims of sovereignty over the territory, argued that the province was artificially separated from their territories by the European colonial powers. Algeria, which also bordered the territory, viewed these demands with suspicion, and the government under Houari Boumédiènne committed itself in 1975 to assisting the Polisario Front, which opposed both Moroccan and Mauritanian claims and demanded full independence.
The UN attempted to settle these disputes through a visiting mission in late 1975, as well as a verdict from the International Court of Justice, which declared that Western Sahara had historical links with Morocco and Mauritania, but population of this territory possessed the right of self-determination. However, Morocco increased its pressure first by a military invasion from North West on 31 October and then on 6 November 1975 with the Green March into Western Sahara by 350,000 unarmed Moroccans.
During the last days of General Franco’s rule, the Spanish government signed a tripartite agreement with Morocco and Mauritania to transfer the territory on 14 November 1975. Under the agreement, Western Sahara will be transferred to a bipartite administration by Morocco and Mauritania; Morocco will take control of the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara as its Southern Provinces and Mauritania the control of the southern third as Tiris al-Gharbiyya; Spain will terminate its presence in Spanish Sahara within three months.
The Western Sahara War 1975-1991
The conflict erupted after the withdrawal of Spain from the Spanish Sahara in accordance with the Madrid Accords. The Polisario Front proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic on 27 February 1976 and, backed by Algeria and Libya, fought both Mauritania and Morocco.
The POLISARIO used mainly guerrilla war tactics while they simultaneously had to help the columns of Sahrawi refugees fleeing Moroccan fire. However, due to the superiority of the Royal Air Force of Morocco, and its devastating effects on the refugees camps in Umm Dreiga, Tifariti, Guelta Zemmur and Amgala, the Front had to relocate the refugees to Tindouf, western region of Algeria. This “exile” permitted in the next two years that the movement grew rapidly as Sahrawi refugees continued to increase the number of fighters, whilst Algeria and Libya supplied arms and funding. Within months, its army had expanded to several thousand armed fighters, with modern weaponry and training. The reorganized army was able to inflict severe damage through guerrilla-style hit-and-run attacks against opposing forces in Western Sahara, in Morocco and in Mauritania.
Especially the last one was the weak ring of the chain that POLISARIO tried to destroy as soon as possible to be able to concentrate all forces against the more powerful Morocco. In Mauritania the regime of Moktar Ould Daddah, whose army numbered under 3,000 men, proved unable to fend off the guerrilla incursions. After repeated strikes at the country’s principal source of income, the iron mines of Zouerate, the government was nearly out of funds. In parallel, grew the internal disorder, mainly fuelled by ethnic unrest in the Mauritanian armed forces. Many black Africans from the south were forcibly conscripted to fight a war for a state that they not recognized, with the result of massive desertions or even joining POLISARIO fighters. In these conditions the fate of Daddah was signed: the regime was overthrow by a coup d’état in 1978. The coup led by dissatisfied military officers, open to an immediate cease fire with the POLISARIO. A comprehensive peace treaty was signed on 5 August 1979, in which the new government recognized Sahrawi rights to Western Sahara and relinquished its own claims. Mauritania withdrew all its forces and would later proceed to formally recognize the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, causing a diplomatic crisis in relations with Morocco. King Hassan II of Morocco immediately claimed the area of Western Sahara evacuated by Mauritania, Tiris al-Gharbiya roughly corresponding to the southern half of Río de Oro, which was unilaterally annexed by Morocco in August 1979.
From the mid-1980s Morocco managed to keep Polisario troops under control by building a huge berm or sand wall, the Moroccan Wall. The Moroccan army stationed a number of troops roughly the same size as the entire Sahrawi population to defend the wall. This stalemated the war, with no side able to achieve decisive gains, although artillery strikes and sniping attacks by the guerrillas continued, and Morocco was economically and politically strained by the war. It only survived by massive financial support by Saudi Arabia, France and the US.
With the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and the end of the Cold War, this conflict, as many others, was soon forgotten and all parties involved were then ready to end the hostilities. The war ended with estimated casualties between 14,000-21,000 and 40,000 to 80,000 refugees.
The Peace Process, 1991 to Present: A History of Failure
The cease fire ending hostilities was officially signed in 1991, under UN monitoring and the establishment of the MINURSO mission. The original plan set up by the agreement was a referendum, originally scheduled for 1992, intended to give the local population of Western Sahara the option between independence or affirming integration with Morocco, but it will never be held.
In 1997, the first attempt to revive the referendum was the Houston Agreement, but ended again with no success. At the heart of the dispute was the question of who qualifies as a potential voter: the Polisario has insisted on only allowing those found on the 1974 Spanish Census lists to vote, while Morocco sought the inclusion of members of Sahrawi tribes which escape from Spanish invasion to the north of Morocco by the 19th century, and the following settlers. This dispute caused delays, and by 1999 the UN had identified about 85,000 voters, with nearly half of them in the Moroccan-controlled parts of Western Sahara or Southern Morocco, and the others between the Tindouf refugee camps, Mauritania and other locations throughout the world. The Polisario Front accepted this voter list, as it had done with the previous lists presented by the UN, but Morocco refused.
The last serious attempt by the UN to solve the dispute through a comprehensive agreement was the Baker Plan, officially known as Peace Plan for Self-Determination of the People of Western Sahara. This was a United Nations initiative led by James Baker, formulated in the year 2000, and it was intended to replace the Settlement Plan of 1991 and the Houston Agreement of 1997.
- Envisioned an autonomous Western Sahara Authority (WSA)
- Would be followed after five years by the referendum
- Every person present in the territory would be allowed to vote, regardless of birthplace and with no regard to the Spanish census;
- The ballot would give three option: Independence, Moroccan annexation or autonomy
- Morocco was allowed to keep its army in the area and retain control over all security issues during both the autonomy years and the election.
However, this solution encountered soon strong opposition and both parts rejected the plan.
In 2003, a new version of the plan commonly known as Baker II, was accepted by the Polisario and the draft quickly obtained widespread international support, culminating in the UN Security Council’s unanimous endorsement of the plan in the summer of 2003. Nevertheless, this hope was short lived; Baker resigned his post at the United Nations in 2004, following several months of failed attempts to get Morocco to enter into formal negotiations. The new king, Mohammed VI of Morocco, opposed any referendum on independence, saying that Morocco will never agree to one: “We shall not give up one inch of our beloved Sahara, not a grain of its sand.”
Morocco has also repeatedly tried to get Algeria into bilateral negotiations, based on its view that Polisario was a puppet maneuvered by the Algerian military. These attempts received vocal support from France and from the United States and would define: a Western Sahara autonomy under Moroccan rule but only after Morocco’s inalienable right to the territory was recognized as a precondition to the talks. The Algerian government has consistently refused, claiming it has no right to negotiate on the behalf of the Polisario Front.
Since early 2005, the UN Secretary-General has not referred to the Baker plan in his reports, and by now it seems largely abandoned. No replacement plan currently exists, and this is increasing the fear that the political vacuum will result in renewed fighting. Morocco continues to propose autonomy for the territory as the solution to the conflict, while the Polisario Front insists on complete independence.
In April 2007, Morocco proposed, through an appointed advisory body, Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS), a self-governing Western Sahara as an autonomous community within Morocco. This was a clear change of policy compared to his father, Hassan II of Morocco, who initially supported the referendum idea in principle in 1982, and in signed contracts with Polisario and the UN in 1991 and 1997. The project was presented to the UN Security Council in mid-April 2007.
On 30 April 2007, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1754, which urged the involved parties to “enter into direct negotiations without preconditions and in good faith”, and extended the MINURSO mission until 31 October 2007. As a result of the passage of this resolution, the parties involved met in Manhasset, New York to once again try and settle the dispute. The talks between the Moroccan government and the Polisario Front were considered the first direct negotiations in seven years, and hailed as a landmark in the peace process. Also present at the negotiations were the neighboring countries of Algeria and Mauritania, but once again no major agreement was reached.
To date, all negotiations have failed to resolve the dispute.
Current Political Situation and Relations
Polisario Front and SADR: Fighters in Search of Legitimacy
The Polisario Front, known also as Frente Polisario, FRELISARIO or simply POLISARIO, from the Spanish abbreviation of Frente Popular de Liberación de Saguía el Hamra y Río de Oro (“Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro” Arabic: الجبهة الشعبية لتحرير ساقية الحمراء و وادي الذهب Al-Jabhat Al-Sha’abiyah Li-Tahrir Saqiya Al-Hamra’a wa Wadi Al-Dhahab), has since 1979 been recognized by the United Nations as the only representative of the people of Western Sahara.
The POLISARIO is a movement that directly links with the tradition of the post-colonial nationalist organizations, whose main goal is the independence of Western Sahara. Consider itself a “front” of all political trends in Sahrawi society, and not as a political party. In the early 1970s, POLISARIO adopted a vaguely socialist rhetoric, in line with most national liberation movements of the time, especially with the hope to obtain a more substantial support from the Soviet bloc, but this was eventually abandoned in favor of a non-politicized Sahrawi nationalism after 1991. The POLISARIO has stated that it will, when Sahrawi independence has been achieved, function as a party within the context of a multi-party system, or will be completely disbanded.
Militarily speaking, the Polisario Front has no navy or air force; the Sahrawi People’s Liberation Army SPLA, is the Polisario’s army. The SPLA’s armed units are considered to have a manpower of possibly 6-7,000 active soldiers today, but during the war years its strength have been up at least to 20,000 men. However, it is widely recognized that has a potential manpower of many times that number, since both male and female refugees in the Tindouf camps undergo military training. The modern SPLA is equipped mainly with outdated Soviet-manufactured weaponry, donated by Algeria, but its arsenals display also a variety of weaponry, captured from Spanish, Mauritanian or Moroccan forces and made in France, the United States, South Africa, Austria or Britain. The SPLA has several armored units, composed of old tanks (T-55s, T-62s), modern armored cars, infantry fighting vehicles, rocket launchers and halftracks. Surface-to-air missiles have helped in shooting down several Moroccan F-5 fighter jets, compensating for the complete Moroccan control of the skies. On 3 November 2005, the Polisario Front signed the Geneva Call, committing itself to a total ban on landmines, and began to destroy its landmine stockpiles under international supervision. Morocco is one of 40 governments that have not signed the 1997 mine ban treaty.
The Polisario currently controls about 20-25% of the Western Sahara territory, as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), and claim sovereignty over the entire territory of Western Sahara. Polisario calls the territories under its control the Liberated Territories or the Free Zone, while Morocco controls and administers the rest of the disputed territory and calls these lands its Southern Provinces. The SADR government considers the Moroccan-held territory as occupied, while Morocco considers the SADR territory to be a buffer zone. In addition, the Polisario Front has a full autonomous control of the Sahrawi refugee camps in the Tindouf Province, in Algeria. With most refugees still living in the camps, most affairs and camp life organization is run by the refugees themselves, with little outside interference, but with strong SADR control and Algerian assistance.
Major Sahrawi political events, such as Polisario congresses and sessions of the Sahrawi National Council, the parliament in exile, are held in the Free Zone in Tifariti and Bir Lehlou, as a strong political and symbolical move to conduct all affairs on Sahrawi territory. Both parties have often accused the counterpart of violations of the ceasefire agreement by the UN, but to date there has been no serious hostile action from either side since 1991.
A key diplomatic goal for the POLISARIO is to obtain the international diplomatic recognition of the SADR as a sovereign state and as Western Sahara’s legitimate government. During the war years, support for the Polisario Front came mostly from African countries, and especially from those liberation movements who shared the anti-colonial struggle legacy: African National Congress (South Africa), SWAPO (Namibia), MPLA (Angola) and FRELIMO (Mozambique). In the Arab world only Algeria and Libya have, at different times, given any significant support to POLISARIO; Iran recognized the SADR in 1980, and Syria and South Yemen had supported the POLISARIO position on the conflict when they were all members of the Front of Refusal. Additionally, many third world non-aligned countries have supported the Polisario Front. Cuba was also a strong military supporter, although far less involved than Algeria or Libya. The old enemy Mauritania formally recognized the SADR as Western Sahara’s government since 1984 and has a substantial Sahrawi refugee population (around 30,000) on its territory.
In 2004, South Africa announced formal recognition of the SADR, which was delayed for ten years despite unequivocal promises by Nelson Mandela; Kenya and Uruguay followed in 2005, and relations were upgraded in some other countries. Currently 85 countries recognize SADR, even though this number change in line with the international scenario and new recognition by some countries are followed by cancellation by others: Albania, Chad, Serbia and in 2006 Kenya suspended its decision to recognize the SADR to act as a mediating party.
The SADR has been a full member of the African Union, since 1984 from which Morocco withdrew in protest and remains the only African nation not within the organization. The SADR also participates as guest on meetings of the Non-Aligned Movement or the New Asian–African Strategic Partnership.
Apart from Algerian military, material and humanitarian aid, food and emergency resources are provided by international organizations such as the WHO and UNHCR. Valuable contributions also come from the strong Spanish solidarity organizations.
Morocco: Behind the Wall a Stubborn Kingdom
The Morocco-controlled parts of Western Sahara are divided into several provinces treated as integral parts of the kingdom. The Moroccan government heavily subsidizes the Saharan provinces under its control to appease nationalist dissent and to attract immigrants from Sahrawis and other communities in Morocco.
The Western Sahara was partitioned between Morocco and Mauritania in April 1976, with Morocco acquiring the northern two-thirds of the territory, Saguia el-Hamra. When Mauritania, under pressure from Polisario guerrillas, abandoned all claims to its portion in August 1979, Morocco moved to occupy that sector and has since asserted administrative control over the whole territory. The official Moroccan government name for Western Sahara is the “Southern Provinces,” which indicates Río de Oro and Saguia el-Hamra.
The Western Sahara Berm, also known as the Moroccan Wall, is an approximately 2,700 km-long defensive structure consisting primarily of sand running through Western Sahara and the southeastern portion of Morocco. It acts as a separation barrier between the Moroccan-controlled areas and the Polisario-controlled section of the territory, the SADR. According to maps from MINURSO or the UNHCR, part of the wall extends several kilometers into internationally recognized Mauritanian territory. According to Pascal Bongard, program director at Geneva Call, between five and ten million land mines have been laid in the areas around the wall.
Algeria: The Unofficial Combatant
Algeria sees itself as important actor in the conflict, and officially supports the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination. Algeria support to POLISARIO and SADR, in terms of political, military and financial assistance made the country integral part of the conflict and dispute with Morocco. The refugee camps are located in Algeria and the country has armed, trained, and financed the Polisario for more than thirty years. More than two thousand Moroccan prisoners of war were previously detained on Algerian soil in Polisario camps, but all POWs have since been released. In response to the Green March, and the ongoing disputed status of Western Sahara, Algeria has expropriated the properties and forcibly expelled tens of thousands of Moroccan civilians since 1975. This remains a source of much tension between the two countries.
Even though Algeria has no official claim to Western Sahara, some experts consider the Sahara conflict a domestic political issue for the country and that the involvement of Algeria in the conflict is well known. In January and February 1976 there were direct battles in Amgala between the Moroccan and Algerian armies; Morocco claims to have captured Algerian officers and non-commissioned officers and soldiers during these confrontations, but has released them to Algerian authorities.
The United Nations has always officially considered Morocco and the Polisario Front as the only parties to the conflict; however, has invited Algeria “to engage as a party in these discussions and to negotiate”.
Arab League: Indifferent as Usual
Efforts to gain support in the Arab World for the idea of a Greater Morocco did not receive much support despite efforts in the early 1960s to enlist the Arab League for its cause. Morocco’s expansionist ambitions caused strains, including a temporary rupture of relations with Tunisia. Unlike the Organization of African Unity which has strongly backed Western Sahara’s right to self-determination, the Arab League has shown little interest in the area during the war years, and only recently openly recognized the right of self-determination of the Sahrawi people
Analysis: Major Threats Can Revive the Conflict. Is Anybody Watching?
The Western Sahara dispute has today totally disappeared from everyday news, or from the attention of international observers and even main powers. Although during the Sahrawi war, Polisario’s legacy was well known and interest was at its high, it has never received the same attention or importance of other post-colonial conflicts, such the one in Austral Africa. The two areas shared in common the late decolonisation in 1974-5 following the collapse of the two right wing dictatorships of Franco and Salazar/Caetano respectively in Spain and Portugal, but whilst the ex-Portuguese colonies obtained independence, the Western Sahara is still fighting for one. The Austral Africa was soon one of the main theatres of the cold war: Marxist pro-soviet and Cuban backed MPLA (Angola) and FRELIMO (Mozambique) fought against guerrillas financed by USA and China of UNITA and RENAMO, with on the background the ANC and ZANU/ZAPU fighting against Apartheid and white minority rule in South Africa and South Rhodesia/Zimbabwe.
Western Sahara surprisingly was not one of the areas of cold war confrontation. The US and the Soviet Union did not consider the area of primary interest; both considered the struggle as secondary and mainly not “worth” of direct intervention. The Americans backed Morocco, and considered it strong enough to resist, whilst the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc did not recognised SADR and even continued relations with Morocco. Nevertheless, Polisario received a support via third parties, by NAM countries which had strong soviet military support such Algeria or from Muhammar Gaddafi’s Libya, or by liberation movements. Even Cuba, that was highly involved in Angola and Mozambique, was side-lined in Western Sahara mainly under soviet instruction of non-interference. Despite this, at least until 1991, the Sahrawi dispute was seen as relevant and faded away only in the following years.
The main concern today is that this locked situation could reignite the conflict, before some of the recent international policies can revive negotiations. Especially Western powers, that in recent years have appeased auto determination in Kosovo and even in Africa for South Sudan, could see the situation in Western Sahara not dissimilar. Their strong voice against the tyranny in Libya, Iran, and Sudan for example cannot be seen yet in the case of Western Sahara. However, their acknowledgment of the damages caused by “double standards” policies may offer this time a new opportunity to get it right.
The African Union that also backed Polisario and SADR aspirations cannot hide after sponsoring independence in South Sudan whilst allowing this last remnant of colonialism to survive.
The United Nations, established the MINURSO (The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara; in Spanish: Misión de las Naciones Unidas para la Organización de un Referéndum en el Sáhara Occidental; MINURSO) with the mandate to monitor the cease-fire and to organize and conduct a referendum in accordance with the Settlement Plan, which would have enabled the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara to choose between integration with Morocco and independence.. However, after more than 20 years, the mission is still active but no progress has been registered on the referendum. Although SADR position softened in recent years and appears open to negotiations on the voters issue, is the Moroccan stubbornness in avoiding an independence referendum that seems to block everything.
Therefore, looking at the above there are several reasons for the international community to actively promote a solution, but paradoxically could be not the pacific acknowledgment of a necessary agreement but the risk of a conflict to open a new phase. Tensions between Morocco and SADR/Polisario are not new and in the past UN observers denounced several violations, even though nothing serious has happened since 1991. Nevertheless, to increase the preoccupations of the UN are not the direct actions of the two parts, but external factors that could trigger a new conflict.
The first reason of concern is the so called Arab Spring, that although helped in bringing down some dictatorships, ended in most cases with results different from the auspices: Tunisia is in the hands of islamists, Libya is still under reconstruction but security is far from being achieved, Egypt is back in the hands of the Army. To this moment, Morocco has been untouched by rebellions or mass demonstrations; Morocco is a constitutional monarchy, elections are judged free and fair. Nevertheless, opposition movements could use this wave of protests to undermine the monarchy and weaken Morocco’s ability to guard Western Sahara and even to continue the expensive maintenance of it. But the spreading of the Arab spring is not seen as an immediate threat to Morocco’s stability, and a more powerful and dangerous threat could bring both Morocco and SADR into a new war: Islamic terrorism.
Terrorism in Western Africa grew strongly in recent years, especially in an area considered in the past politically advanced and immune from fundamentalism. Factors such bad governance, corruption, poverty, weak politics and power vacuum contributed to the collapse of security in several states. Nigeria for example saw the rise of Boko Haram, Mali has seen the Ansar al Dine intervention in a Tuareg rebellion, Algeria seem unable to control its borders, as well as Niger, Mauritania and even Nigeria. Powerful terrorist organisations, such Al Qaida in Maghreb ALQAIM, are today judged a serious threat to stability and this explain the rapidity with which France and western powers intervened in Mali. The risk for Western Sahara is to become a “new Mali”: they share the same vacuum of power and in both a powerful nationalist movement is present. In Mali, the Tuareg MNLA received assistance at first by islamist of Ansar al Dine and, as we know, once liberated from the central government, the islamists took over and side-lined the secular Tuareg movements, trying to establish a new Islamic state. The risk is that the Sahara’s unresolved struggle, could draw attention of ALQAIM linked groups to support Polisario in restart the armed struggle, and then hijack the eventual victory to establish a new terrorist base.
This factor alone could be enough to push the international community to act and avoid another disaster such the Malian one. The risk of leaving open this question, accompanied by weak governments in the area of Sahara and Sahel could drag all the parts in a conflict whose results could be very different from what the original contestants sought for years.
For this reason, whilst it is necessary a renewed UN effort, backed strongly by the Security Council, the African Union, Algeria, US, Russia and both parties, on the other the only possible way is still to allow Sahrawi people to express themselves in a referendum. Although Morocco and SADR have different views on the matter, the threats that both are facing, in common with the international community, could be the factor that finally will open a new round of negotiations. Leaving unresolved this dispute by pacific means, could open the door to a far more dangerous threat. To the above we must add the embarrassment for the silence by which a long struggle for auto determination has been relegated to the indifference, allowing this dinosaur of the post-colonial era to survive.