Renewed Interest in the Western Sahara Conflict
2022 Peace Talks:
- Beginning on February 17, 2022, the EU-AU summit will host European and African heads of state to deliberate over the Western Sahara conflict in hopes of a resolution.
- In January 2022, Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Western Sahara, led peace talks between the Moroccan Foreign Minister and SADR President Brahim Ghali, but no further developments occurred.
Key Players and International Recognition:
- The disputed Western Saharan territory is represented by two governments: 1) the Moroccan government and 2) the exiled Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic government, which is controlled by the Polisario Front.
- For nearly 30 years, these parties adhered to a ceasefire. However, in 2020, the Polisario Front obstructed the Morocco-Mauritania trade route, causing Morocco to retaliate with military operations against the Polisario Front.
- The SADR is a member of the African Union and is recognized by 43% of UN member states. However, the UN does not recognize either Moroccan or SADR sovereignty over Western Sahara.
- UN peacekeeping forces are present in Western Sahara.
- As of December 2020, the United States became the first country to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the territory. In exchange, Morocco normalized relations with Israel as established in the Abraham Accords.
- Between 1884 through 1975, Western Sahara was under Spain’s colonial rule.
- In 1957, neighboring and newly independent Morocco made claims to the territory; however, Spanish troops were able to repel Moroccan forces.
- Three years later, newly independent Mauritania also made claims to Western Sahara.
- Both countries wanted sovereignty over Western Sahara because huge deposits of phosphate were found in the territory.
- In 1973, Spanish Sahara’s indigenous population founded the Polisario Front, an independence and insurgency group. With pressure from the Polisario Front, the Spanish relinquished power of Western Sahara in 1975 and partitioned the area to Morocco and Mauritania. A year later, the Polisario Front announced the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as the official name of the Western Sahara.
- For the next sixteen years, the Polisario Front engaged in guerilla warfare against Morocco.
- Mauritania reached a peace agreement and relinquished their territory of Western Sahara in 1979.
- A decade later, Morocco and the Polisario Front agreed to a UN peace proposal, the Joint Settlement Plan of 1991, in which a referendum would be held in Western Sahara for Sahrawis to decide whether they wanted independence or to become part of Morocco.
- In 1991, the two sides agreed to a ceasefire, yet the referendum was not held.