Western Sahara [April 14, 2013]   [open pdf - 323KB]

"Since the 1970s, Morocco and the independence-seeking Popular Front for the Liberation of Saqiat al Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario) have vied, at times violently, for control of the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony. In 1991, the United Nations (U.N.) arranged a ceasefire and proposed a settlement plan that called for a referendum to allow the people of the Western Sahara to choose between independence and integration into Morocco. A long deadlock on determining the electorate for a referendum ensued. The U.N. then unsuccessfully suggested alternatives to the unfulfilled settlement plan and later called on the parties to negotiate. In April 2007, Morocco offered a plan for increased regional autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. The Moroccan government and the Polisario have met under U.N. auspices since 2007, but have made no progress on a settlement due to an apparent unwillingness to compromise. U.N. Special Envoy Christopher Ross, a U.S. diplomat, has convened informal talks and--more recently--initiated shuttle diplomacy between Morocco, the Polisario, and regional and European leaders. Morocco controls roughly 80% of the disputed territory and considers the whole area part of its sovereign territory. In line with his autonomy initiative, Morocco's King Mohammed VI has pursued policies of decentralization that he says are intended to empower residents of his Saharan provinces. The Polisario has a government in exile, the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which is hosted and backed by neighboring Algeria. The Western Sahara issue has stymied Moroccan-Algerian bilateral relations, Moroccan relations with the African Union, and regional cooperation on economic and security issues. International attention to the issue appears to have increased over the past year amid growing concerns over regional terrorist threats."

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, RS20962
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