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The Western Sahara War was the armed conflict which saw the Sahrawi rebel Polisario Front battling Spainmarker, Moroccomarker and Mauritaniamarker for the independence of the former Spanish colony of Western Saharamarker (Rio de Oro) from 1973 to 1991. The war first resulted with the Spanish retreat in 1975, the Mauritanian retreat in 1979 and a cease fire agreement with Morocco. The territory remained under Moroccan control.

Background

Spanish Sahara

In 1884, Spainmarker claimed a protectorate over the coast from Cape Bojadormarker to Cap Blanc. Later, the Spanish extended their area of control. In 1958 Spain joined 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.

Raids and rebellions by the indigenous Sahrawi population kept the Spanish forces out of much of the territory for a long time. Ma al-Aynayn started an uprising against the Frenchmarker in the 1910s, at a time when Francemarker had expanded its influence and control in North-West Africa. French forces finally beat him when he tried to conquer Marrakeshmarker, but his sons and followers figured prominently in several rebellions which followed. Not until the second destruction of Smaramarker in 1934, by joint Spanish and French forces, did the territory finally become subdued. Another uprising in 1956 - 1958, initiated by the Moroccanmarker-backed Army of Liberation, led to heavy fighting, but eventually the Spanish forces regained control - again with French aid. However, unrest simmered, and in 1967 the Harakat Tahrir arose to challenge Spanish rule peacefully. After the events of the Zemla Intifada in 1970, when Spanish police destroyed the organization and "disappeared" its founder, Muhammad Bassiri, Sahrawi nationalism again took a militant turn.

Creation of the Polisario Front

In 1971 a group of young Sahrawi students in the universities of Moroccomarker began organizing what came to be known as The Embryonic Movement for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro. After attempting in vain to gain backing from several Arab governments, including both Algeriamarker and Moroccomarker, but only drawing faint notices of support from Libyamarker and Mauritaniamarker, the movement eventually relocated to Spanish-controlled Western Sahara to start an armed rebellion.

Timeline

The beginnings

The Polisario Front was formally constituted on May 10, 1973 with the express intention of militarily forcing an end to Spanishmarker colonization. Its first Secretary General was El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed. On May 20 he led the Khanga raid, Polisario's first armed action, in which a Spanish post manned by a team of Tropas Nomadas (Sahrawi-staffed auxiliary forces) was overrun and rifles seized. Polisario then gradually gained control over large swaths of desert countryside, and its power grew from early 1975 when the Tropas Nomadas began deserting to the Polisario, bringing weapons and training with them. At this point, Polisario's manpower included perhaps 800 men and women, but they were backed by a vastly larger network of supporters. A UN visiting mission headed by Simeon Aké that was conducted in June 1975 concluded that Sahrawi support for independence (as opposed to Spanish rule or integration with a neighbouring country) amounted to an "overwhelming consensus" and that the Polisario Front was by far the most powerful political force in the country.

Withdrawal of Spain

While Spain started negotiating a handover of power in the summer of 1975, in the end the Franco regime decided to throw in its lot with Western Sahara's neighbours instead . After Moroccan pressures through the Green March of November 6, Spain entered negotiations that led to the signing of the Madrid Accords between Spain, Morocco and Mauritaniamarker. Upon Spain's withdrawal, and in application of the Madrid Accords in 1976, Morocco took over the Saguia El Hamra while Mauritania took control of Rio De Oro. The Algeria-backed Polisario Front proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic on 27, February 1976, and waged a guerrilla war against both Moroccomarker and Mauritaniamarker. The World Court at The Haguemarker had issued its verdict on the former Spanish colony just weeks before, which each party interpreted as confirming its rights on the disputed territory.

The Polisario kept up the guerrilla war and rebased in Tindoufmarker in the western regions of Algeriamarker. For the next two years the movement grew tremendously as Sahrawi refugees flocked to the camps and Algeria supplied arms and funding. Within months, its army had expanded to several thousand armed fighters, camels were replaced by modern jeeps, and 19th century muskets were replaced by assault rifles. The reorganized army was able to inflict severe damage through guerrilla-style hit-and-run attacks against enemy forces in Western Saharamarker and in Moroccomarker and Mauritaniamarker proper.

Mauritania pulls out

The weak Mauritanian regime of 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 Zoueratemarker, the government was nearly incapacitated by the lack of funds and the ensuing internal disorder. [595589] Ethnic unrest in the Mauritanian armed forces also strongly contributed to the ineffectiveness of the army: forcibly conscripted black Africans from the south of the country resisted getting involved in what they viewed as a northern intra-Arab dispute, and the tribes of northern Mauritania often sympathized with Polisario, fearing possible Moroccan regional ambitions and resenting perceived increasing dependence of the Daddah regime on Moroccan military support.

Not even overt French Air Force backing in 1978, when SEPECAT Jaguar fighters strafed and bombed Polisario guerrilla columns en route to Mauritania, proved enough to save the regime, and the death of Polisario leader El Ouali in a raid on Nouakchottmarker did not as anticipated result in the collapse of Polisario morale. Instead, he was replaced by Mohamed Abdelaziz, with no letup in the pace of attacks. The Daddah regime finally fell in 1978 to a coup d'état led by war-weary military officers, [595590] who immediately agreed to a cease fire with the Polisario. A comprehensive peace treaty was signed on August 5, 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 massive rupture 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. [595591]

The Moroccan wall stalemates the war

From the mid-1980s Morocco largely managed to keep Polisario troops off by building a huge berm or sand wall (the Moroccan Wall), staffed by an army roughly the same size as the entire Sahrawi population, enclosing within it the economically useful parts of Western Sahara (Bou Craamarker, El-Aaiunmarker, Smaramarker etc). This stalemated the war, with no side able to achieve decisive gains, but artillery strikes and sniping attacks by the guerrillas continued, and Morocco was economically and politically strained by the war. Morocco faced heavy burdens due to the economic costs of its massive troop deployments along the Wall. To some extent aid sent by Saudi Arabia and by the USA relieved the situation in Morocco, but matters gradually became unsustainable for all parties involved.

Cease-fire and aftermath

A cease-fire between the Polisario and Morocco, monitored by MINURSO (UN) has been in effect since September 6, 1991, on the promise of a referendum on independence the following year. The referendum, however, stalled over disagreements on voter rights, and numerous attempts at restarting the process (most significantly the launching of the 2003 Baker plan) seem to have failed. The prolonged cease-fire has held without major disturbances, but Polisario has repeatedly threatened to resume fighting if no break-through occurs. Morocco's withdrawal from both the terms of the original Settlement Plan and the Baker Plan negotiations in 2003 left the peace-keeping mission without a political agenda: this further increased the risks of renewed war.

International incidents

On 24 February 1985, the Polar 3, a research airplane of the Alfred Wegener Institute of the type Dornier 228, was shot down by guerrillas of the Polisario Front over Western Sahara. All three crew members died. Polar 3, together with unharmed Polar 2, was on its way back from Antarcticamarker and had taken off in Dakarmarker, Senegalmarker, to reach Arrecifemarker, Canary Islandsmarker. The German government, which did not recognize Morocco's claim to Western Sahara at the time and remained neutral in the conflict, heavily criticized the incident.

In 1984, Polisario had shot down two Moroccan and a Belgian airplane as well.

References

See also



External links




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