Western Sahara: An independence struggle frozen in time and forgotten by the world

The Sahrawi people of the Western Sahara are split off from the rest of civilization by a 2,700km wall stretching across the desert: a stark physical reminder of an independence struggle which remains unresolved after 40 years. In the four decades since Moroccan troops entered and occupied the remote territory in 1975, the resulting conflict and struggle for independence has barely been reported, and has largely been overlooked by the international community.

This ‘media invisibility’ is in stark contrast to coverage of other situations where a population has been divided: such as the Cold War separation of East and West Germany, and the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. Even on the rare occasions when the territory does make the news, there is often a lack of background context to the dispute, which dates back to the end of the colonial era.

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What is today known as Western Sahara, was a former Spanish Colony up until the 1975 ‘Madrid Agreement’, in which Spain agreed to end colonial rule, and control of the area was passed on to Morocco and Mauritania. Mauritanian troops soon withdrew, and Morocco annexed the territory. These events were followed by a 14-year guerrilla war between Moroccan troops and the Polisario Front – a group fighting against the perceived occupation, operating from neighbouring Algeria.

To counter the rebel movement, Morocco built a 2,700km wall in the 1980’s to separate the troubled territory from the rest of the country. The wall remains in place today, manned by an estimated 120,000 Moroccan soldiers and surrounded by thousands of landmines which have wounded more than 2,500 people over the last four decades.

In the years immediately after the violence ended, the outlook began to look more positive: the UN set up a Peacekeeping Mission in 1992, known as the ‘UN Mission for a Referendum in Western Sahara’. The aim of the mission was to give the Sahrawi people a vote on self-determination; yet 25 years later this has still not materialized, and the political situation remains deadlocked.

The lack of any meaningful progress is a cause of increasing frustration amongst the native people of Western Sahara, with more than 155,000 of them still living in refugee camps in neighbouring Algeria after being displaced by the conflict. Morocco has continually rejected independence as an option, and has been accused over the years of abusing human rights and using excessive force against protestors. For example, several people were killed when security forces broke up a pro-independence demonstration, at a protest camp just outside the capital Laayoune in November 2010.

Source: Geopolitical Conflict Blog

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The Sahrawi people of the Western Sahara are split off from the rest of civilization by a 2,700km wall stretching across the desert: a stark physical reminder of an independence struggle which remains unresolved after 40 years. In the four decades since Moroccan troops entered and occupied the remote territory in 1975, the resulting conflict and struggle for independence has barely been reported, and has largely been overlooked by the international community.

This ‘media invisibility’ is in stark contrast to coverage of other situations where a population has been divided: such as the Cold War separation of East and West Germany, and the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. Even on the rare occasions when the territory does make the news, there is often a lack of background context to the dispute, which dates back to the end of the colonial era.

Article 6 (2) Western Sahara Western Sahara has been a disputed territory for…

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