Western Sahara [February 15, 2011]   [open pdf - 221KB]

"Since the 1970s, Morocco and the independence-seeking Popular Front for the Liberation of Saqiat al Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario) have vied for control of the Western Sahara, a former Spanish territory. In 1991, the United Nations arranged a cease-fire 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 an autonomy plan for the region. The two sides have since met on several occasions under U.N. auspices, but have made no progress due to their unwillingness to compromise. Informal talks were reconvened between November 2010 and January 2011 by U.N. Special Envoy Christopher Ross. In November 2010, Moroccan security forces dismantled a Sahrawi protest camp near the Moroccan-administered regional capital, Laayoune, sparking violent confrontations and criticism from rights advocates. The Western Sahara issue has affected Algerian-Moroccan bilateral relations, Moroccan relations with the African Union, and regional cooperation on economic and security issues. The United States supports the U.N. effort and has urged the parties to focus on autonomy--a solution that would not destabilize its ally, Morocco. Some Members of Congress support a referendum and are frustrated by delays; others support Morocco's autonomy initiative. The United States contributes funds, but no manpower, for the United Nations Mission for the Organization of a Referendum in the Western Sahara (MINURSO). In an explanatory statement accompanying the FY2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act (P.L. 111-8, March 11, 2009), appropriators expressed concern about human rights in the Western Sahara. Similar provisions have not appeared in subsequent appropriations legislation."

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CRS Report for Congress, RS20962
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