King of Spain, Carlos III and King of Morocco signed the Treaty of Marrakech whereby the latter recognised that his authority and power do not go beyond “Oued-Noun”. This disposition was then confirmed by the Treaty of Meknes signed between both parties in 1789.
The conference of Berlin divided Africa between the colonial powers: Spain will occupy the Western Sahara.
Spain and France signed the Treaty of Muni -ratified in October 1904- which stressed the limits of the Spanish occupation: the Rio de Oro stretching from the White Cap to the 26° parallel, the Saguia El Hamra from the 26° parallel to the 27°40’ as well as the zone of Tarfaya to Oued Draa. These boundaries were definitely fixed and sealed under an accord signed between France and Spain in 1912.
In accordance with General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 Dec. 1960, the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation declared Western Sahara a “non-self-governing territory to be decolonised”.
December: The UN General Assembly adopted its first resolution on Western Sahara, requesting Spain to decolonise the Territory (General Assembly resolution 2072 (XX) of 17 Dec. 1965).
December: The UN General Assembly called for Spain to organise, under UN supervision, a referendum on self-determination (General Assembly resolution 2229 (XXI) of 20 Dec. 1966).
April 29th- May 10th: The Frente Para la Liberación de Saguia Al Hamra y Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) was founded in Zouerate, Mauritania, with the purpose of obtaining independence for the Western Sahara. The POLISARIO launched its first raids against Spanish colonisers.
December: The Spanish census, a prerequisite for the self-determination referendum, registered 73, 497 inhabitants of Western Sahara.
October: The Decolonization Committee issued a report requesting the UN General Assembly to enable the local population to choose their future in free and fair circumstances.
October 16th: The International Court of Justice (ICJ) published its advisory opinion on the status of the Territory before colonization by Spain. “… the Court has not found legal ties of such nature as might affect the application of resolution 1514 (XV) in the decolonization of Western Sahara and, in particular, of the principle of self-determination through the free and genuine expression of the will of the peoples of the Territory.”
October 31th: Moroccan troops crossed the frontier and clashed with Polisario guerrillas.
November 6th: Morocco launched the “Green March”. More than 350,000 Moroccans marched a few kilometres across the border into the Western Sahara Territory.
November 14th: Spain, Mauritania and Morocco signed the Madrid Accords. Spain agreed to cede administrative control of the northern two-thirds of the Western Sahara Territory to Morocco and the Southern third to Mauritania respectively, after a transitional tripartite administration period.
December 11th: Fighting erupted between Polisario and Moroccan forces in Layyoune.
December 20th: Mauritanian troops took over the cities of Tichla and La Güera (South of the Territory).
January 27th-29th: First battle of Amgala between Moroccan and Polisario forces. Rabat denounced the presence of Algerian units among Polisario fighters. Morocco has since then never managed its efforts to put the responsibility of this conflict on Algiers.
February 26th: Spain officially withdrew from the Territory.
February 27th: Morocco annexed the Western Sahara. Polisario proclaims the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in Bir Lahlou and announces an armed struggle to achieve the right of self-determination. Fighting breaks out between the Polisario and the Moroccan and Mauritanian armies. The Sahrawi population flees to Tindouf, Algeria.
April 14th: Morocco and Mauritania divided the Western Sahara Territory. Mauritania received the southern third (Dakhla region) and Morocco the northern two thirds (Laayoune, Boujdour and Smara regions).
May: The first refugee camps are established in the harsh Saharan region of Tindouf, Algeria.
October-November: Operation Lamantine. French air and Special Forces launched an operation in support of Mauritania against Polisario.
August 1978: Military escalation between Polisario, Mauritanian and Moroccan forces occurred.
July 17th-20th: At a Summit in Monrovia, Liberia, the Organisation of African Unity, OAU (known today as the African Union, AU), launched a mediation initiative for a peaceful solution to the Western Sahara conflict by calling for a cease-fire and a referendum. The proposal is rejected by Morocco.
August 15th: Mauritania renounced all claims on Western Sahara and signed a cease-fire with Polisario in Algiers. Morocco took over the Southern part of Western Sahara left by Mauritania.
July 16th: The SADR formally applied for membership in the OAU.
Morocco began the construction of the first of a series of defensive sand walls or ‘berms’, stretching over 2,400 Km in order to protect the Western part of the Territory.
June 24th-27th: At the 18th OAU Summit in Nairobi, King Hassan II expressed his willingness to hold a referendum, taking into account Morocco’s historical claims to the Territory.
February 1982: The SADR was admitted to the Organisation of Arab Unity (OAU). SADR’s admission was followed by Morocco’ suspension of its participation in the OAU.
November 12th: Morocco officially withdrew from the Organisation of Arab Unity (OAU) to protest against the presence of the Polisario at the OAU summit.
August 30th: A joint effort of good offices UN-OAU, which started in 1985, culminated in the presentation to Morocco and the Polisario of the ‘Settlement Proposals’ for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The two parties agreed on the UN “settlement proposals,” which pushed for a ceasefire (effective in 1991) and the holding of a referendum to enable the people of Western Sahara to choose between independence and integration with Morocco.
September 20th: The Uruguayan Hector Gross Espiell was appointed as first Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara.
October 07th: Polisario launched a massive attack against Moroccan troops in Guelta Zemmour (Centre of Western Sahara) and Amgala (II).
April 09th: Resolution S/1991/690 established UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) with the mandate to implement the settlement proposals during a transitional period in which the referendum would be organized. The plan’s purpose was to create the conditions and modalities for the supervision and conduct of the referendum, monitors the cease-fire and create an identification commission to determine eligible voters.
Mid-August: Few days before the proclamation of the cease-fire, Morocco launched a heavy offensive against Polisario at Tifariti.
September 01st: The first contingent of 100 MINURSO military observers arrived in Laayoune.
September 06th: Following agreement with the parties, the UN Secretary-General announced the cease-fire. Both sides suspended the military operations.
August 28th: The IDC launched the identification process simultaneously in Laayoune and in the Tindouf area.
May: The identification process was suspended. The civilian police component of UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was withdrawn and the military component reduced.
March 17th: The UN Secretary-General appointed James Baker III, former US Secretary of State, as his Personal Envoy for Western Sahara (S/1997/236).
September 14th-16th: The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, James Baker, conducted a round of talks between the parties to define the compilation procedures for the electoral body, troop confinement, refugee repatriation and a code of conduct for the referendum. This round of talks led to the adoption of the Houston Accords.
September: The process of identifying eligible voters was completed.
July 15th: The IDC published the first Provisional Voters List (PVL). An appeals process began.
January 15th: The IDC published the second PVL. A total of 250,000 Saharans were identified: 86,425 were deemed ‘eligible voters’.
February 28th: 131,000 appeals were lodged against the results of the PVLs. Differences between the two parties on the appeal process suspended de facto further activities of the IDC.
June 20th: James Baker presented the S/2001/613 report or “Framework Agreement” also known as the Baker’s Plan I. The plan envisaged the integration, with a degree of autonomy, of the Territory within Morocco. Morocco would control the territory while the Sahrawis would have had exclusive competence over local issues. Rabat accepted it, but Frente Polisario rejected the plan. Further negotiations between the two parties continued.
February 19th: Within the S/2002/178 report, the UN Secretary-General put forward four options to the Security Council: (1) implementation of ‘Settlement Plan’ without concurrence of the parties; (2) revision of Framework Agreement; (3) explore possible division of the Territory between the two parties; (4) termination of MINURSO, acknowledging that the UN “cannot resolve the problem without requiring one of the parties to do something it does not want to do.” The Security Council did not endorse any of the four options and demanded the Personal Envoy to continue in the talks with the protagonists.
July 30th: The UN Security Council Resolution S/RES/1429 stated that it was ready to consider ‘any approach which provided for the self-determination’ of the people of Western Sahara.
May 23rd: Under the S/2003/565 report, the Secretary General James Baker proposed the Peace Plan (Baker Plan II) which provided for a referendum in four to five years time and offered the inhabitants a choice between independence, autonomy or complete integration with Morocco. The plan was accepted by Polisario, Algeria and the Security Council but was rejected by Morocco.
July 31st: James Baker returned with a revised version of his plan, including safeguards that won Algerian and Polisario support. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council S/RES/1495 reaffirmed the Baker Plan (II) as the ‘optimal political solution’. Although Moroccan settlers were able to vote, Rabat rejected the plan.
October 16th: In his S/2003/1016 report, the UN Secretary-General urged Morocco to accept and implement the plan.
March 30th: The IDC formally concluded its activities. The files are currently safeguarded in the UN Headquarter in Geneva.
April 23rd: Morocco rejected the Baker Plan II arguing that conditions such as the transition arrangements and the option of independence were undisputable ‘red lines’, which cannot be accepted by Rabat.
June 11th: James Baker III resigned as the UN Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara. The functions were assumed until May 2005 by MINURSO’ Special Representative for Western Sahara at that time, Alvaro de Soto.
July 29th: Ambassador Peter van Walsum, a former Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the UN, was appointed as Personal Envoy for Western Sahara.
August 18th: Through the mediation of the US Government and under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the last 404 Moroccan POWs held by the Frente Polisario were released.
September 01st: Francesco Bastagli is the new Special Representative of Secretary-General for Western Sahara.
October 11th -17th: The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy to Western Sahara, Peter van Walsum visited the region and met with the parties.
November 06th: Rabat celebrated the thirtieth Anniversary of the Green March. On this occasion, the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, announced the launching of a process of consultation with the parties on granting autonomy within Moroccan sovereignty to Western Sahara.
March 25th: Morocco established a Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS, Conseil royal consultatif pour les affaires sahariennes) comprising all Moroccan political parties as well as Sahrawi leaders, but not Polisario. The main purpose of CORCAS is to make proposals concerning the autonomy of Western Sahara.
April 19th: Latest report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council (S/2006/249). The Secretary-General, among other things, endorsed his Personal Envoy’s recommendation for direct negotiations among the parties, to be held without preconditions. The negotiations should work out a compromise that will produce a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, providing for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. The Council and its individual members States should do all in their power to help negotiations get off the ground.
April 28th: The Security Council in its resolution S/1675 (2006) reaffirmed its commitment to assist the parties to achieve a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara in the context of arrangements consistent with the principles and purpose of the Charter of the United Nations. Furthermore, the Council reiterated its call upon the parties and States of the region to continue to cooperate fully with the UN to end the current impasse and to achieve progress towards a political solution. Finally, the Council decided to extend the mandate of MINURSO until 30 October 2006.
October: Morocco criticised a UN OHCHR report critical of its human rights record in Western Sahara and pointed it as biased and in favour of the Polisario Front.
December: Rabat’s sponsored CORCAS proposed autonomy, burying the prospect of independence. This was dismissed by Polisario.
March 05th: Julian Harston, SRSG for Western Sahara, arrived in the mission area.
April 11th: Morocco submited its autonomy plan proposal to the United Nations. This is entitled “Moroccan Initiative for Negotiating an Autonomy Statute for the Sahara Region”. Polisario presented its proposal to the United Nations Secretary-General named “Proposal for a Mutually Acceptable Political Solution that Provides for the Self-Determination of the People of Western Sahara.”
April 30th: The UN Security unanimously voting the Resolution 1754 called on the parties to open direct talks, “in good faith and without preconditions”. In the preamble of the Resolution, the Security expressed appreciation for the Moroccan proposals and took note of the Polisario document.
June 18th-19th: Morocco and the Polisario hold talked in Manhasset, New York, under the auspices of the UN. This was the first direct meeting between the parties since 2000. The Polisario stated its readiness to consider the Moroccan autonomy plan, but insists on a referendum on self-determination, including the option of independence. Morocco was willing to offer self-determination only based on sole autonomy.
June 27th: The Secretary-General submited a report on the status and progress of the first round of negotiations. In this report, the SG noted that despite having accepted resolution 1754, the two parties remained far apart on the definition of self-determination. The Secretary-General had originally made recommendations in his report, including that the Council call on all member states to urge “both parties to make every effort to maintain the momentum and to impress upon them that a final resolution of the conflict will require flexibility and sacrifice from both of them.” He also made specific recommendations to Morocco and the Polisario. But because of concerns from both parties that this might negatively influence the next round, the report was reissued without this paragraph.
August 10th-11th: The second UN-sponsored talks between Morocco and Polisario began in Manhasset. Besides discussing the implementation of resolution 1754, the two parties focused on ways to reinforce confidence-building measures such as contacts between Sahrawi refugees in the Algerian border area of Tindouf and their relatives in Western Sahara.
December 14th-20th: The Polisario held a “congress” (usually held every three to four years) in its outpost of Tifariti. In a statement carried by the Algerian official news agency (APS), the Polisario said that if current negotiations failed, the Moroccan government would assume full consequences including possibly for resumption of hostilities.
January 07th-09th: third UN-sponsored talks between Morocco and Polisario delegations began in Manhasset.
January 09th: Peter van Walsum, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, released a communiqué on the third round of talks between Morocco and the Polisario. It noted that the parties continued to have strong differences but agreed on the need to move into a substantive phase. There was no progress on confidence-building measures, but there were preliminary discussions on thematic subjects, including administration, competencies and institutions.
January: Human Rights Watch reports in its annual World Report that Morocco’s authorities continued to harass human rights defenders and Sahrawi activists in the Western Sahara. Repression of public protests, it said, was fiercer in Western Sahara than elsewhere in the Kingdom.
February: Peter van Walsum visited the region and held in-depth consultations with the parties. He met the Polisario Secretary-General Mohamed Abdelaziz and other members of the Polisario leadership on 9 February. He also met senior Moroccan officials in Rabat. He finally discussed with officials in Algiers and Nouakchott.
March 16th-18th: Fourth UN-sponsored talks between Morocco and Polisario delegations began in Manhasset, New York in search of a mutually acceptable solution to the situation in Western Sahara. The talks focused on implementation of Council resolutions 1754 and 1783. They also focused on administration, justice and resources issues. After the talks, the Moroccan delegation made a statement about its territorial integrity, and concluded that the choice is not between autonomy and independence but between autonomy and status quo.
March: The US Department of State released its 2007 Western Sahara Country Report on Human Rights Practices in which it is noted that political rights for residents in Western Sahara remained circumscribed. It added that “international human rights groups and Sahrawi activists maintained that the Moroccan government subjected Sahrawis who were suspected of supporting either Western Saharan independence or the Polisario to various forms of surveillance, arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention, and in many cases, torture.”
April 21th: Peter van Walsum gave his last briefing to the Council as Personal Envoy. He suggested moving the discussions away from the two proposals on the table presented by the parties and instead going forward on the temporary assumption that there would be no referendum with independence as an option without recognising Moroccan sovereignty. His conclusions were controversial and threatened to divide the Council. They were not reflected in the Secretary-General’s 14 April report and were not taken up by the Council.
August 21th: The contract of Peter van Walsum, Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, expired and was not renewed.
December: Human Rights Watch issued a report on the human rights situation in Western Sahara and in the Tindouf refugee camps. It criticised both Morocco and the Polisario for human rights abuses. Similarly to previous report, this was condemned by Rabat as being excessively critical of Morocco.
January 7th: Christopher Ross was appointed Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara.
February 02nd: The Secretary-General issued a statement welcoming the parties’ decision to agree to the proposal for informal talks a facilitated by his Special Envoy, Christopher Ross.
February 25th-27th: Christopher Ross visited the region (Rabat, Tindouf, Algiers), Spain and France. While still in listening mode, he made clear that he would try a new approach and not call a fifth negotiation round until the ground had been prepared sufficiently to make some progress possible.
February 28th: Julian Harston, SRSG for Western Sahara, ended his tour of duty.
March 17th: Following the conclusion of a survey carried out in 2008, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees announced that two UN-led missions would visit the Tindouf camps to assess overall conditions for the refugees following concerns over malnutrition.
June 24th-30th: Christopher Ross visits the region (Algiers, Tindouf, Nouakchott, Rabat) and Spain.
October 12th: The Secretary-General appointed the Egyptian Hany Abdel-Aziz as his Special Representative for Western Sahara and the Head of MINURSO.
November 13th: The chairwoman of the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders, Aminatou Haidar, was refused entry into Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara on the grounds that she denied her Moroccan nationality, as she wrote her place of residence to be Western Sahara on her entry form. She started a hunger-strike which lasted thirty-two days. Following external pressure, Rabat eventually authorized her to reach Layyoune.
February 11th-12th: Under the auspices of C. Ross, Morocco and the Polisario Front held informal meeting in accordance with resolution 1871, which urged the parties to continue dialogue to achieve acceptable political solution.
October 12th: As a protest about their living conditions, displaced Saharawis set up the camp of Gadaym Izik outside Laayoune. It will soon become home to more than 12,000 people.
November 06th: Commemoration by Rabat of the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Green March.
November 08th: Clashes occured between Sahrawis and Moroccan riot forces in the camp of Gadaym Izik. Moroccan security forces entered the camp in the early hours of the morning, using helicopters and water cannon to force people to leave. This action resulted in the death of at least eleven people from both sides. Many human rights activists were barred by the Moroccan authorities from entering the Western Sahara territory to investigate.
November 08th-09th: Morocco and the Polisario Front held informal meeting in Manhasset.
April, 30th: The mandate of MINURSO, the peacekeeping body in Western Sahara, expires. It will then be 20 years since MINURSO was founded and its mandate will most likely be renewed again.
7 décembre 2010
(1) “Est-il dans l’intérêt du Maroc d’avoir des Marocains malgré eux ; est-il dans l’intérêt de la stabilité de cette partie de mon pays, partie Nord, de s’encombrer pour les générations à venir des séparatistes ?”, in Maghreb-Machrek, no. 121, 1988, Vol. 119-122.
E. Jensen, Western Sahara, Anatomy of a Stalemate, Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., London, 2005
S. Zunes & J. Mundy, Western Sahara: War, Nationalism and Conflict Irresolution, Syracuse University Press, New York, 2010