Text of Military Agreement #1

November 8, 2011

In my last post I urged people to contact MINURSO and UN Peacekeeping to ask why vital information on the terms of the ceasefire in Western Sahara has been removed from the MINURSO website, and request that this information be reinstated. Here is the text in question, from Military Agreement (MA) #1, copied from the MINURSO website in October 2008 (from this address, which is now defunct: http://www.minurso.unlb.org/monitoring.html):

“MA#1 divides the disputed territory of Western Sahara into five parts:
• One 5 km wide Buffer Strip (BS) to the South and East side of the Berm;
• Two 30 km wide Restricted Areas (RA) along the Berm. The Buffer Strip is included in the
Restricted Area on the POLISARIO side and the Berm is included in the Restricted Area on
the RMA side;
• Two Areas with Limited Restrictions (ALR), which are the two remaining vast, stretches of
land of Western Sahara on both sides respectively.”

I quoted this text in a Briefing Note I prepared on the partition of Western Sahara, also in October 2008.

For a graphical representation of MA#1 click here. For Map A4-010 showing the ceasefire on the ground, see below, or click here for a jpeg version.

I’ve posted all this before, and will keep reposting it until MINURSO reinstates the relevant ceasefire information on its website, and Morocco’s propagandists stop their attempts to mislead the world into believing that Morocco controls all of Western Sahara, and that the Polisario-controlled areas are in fact an empty “buffer strip” set up by the UN for Morocco’s protection (the buffer zone is just 5km wide on one side of the Berm, and there is parity between the Moroccan and Polisario controlled zones, on either side of the Berm, in MA#1). Morocco is misrepresenting the situation on the ground in order to persuade the world that its “Autonomy Plan” for Western Sahara is viable. It is not, as it does not address the issue of partition, or of the Sahrawi refugees in Algeria. The information presented here, downloaded from earlier versions of the MINURSO website, clearly contradicts Morocco’s representation of the situation. Rabat is desperate to obscure the situation on the ground, and it seems likely that this is why MINURSO removed the information relating to the terms of the ceasefire, as a result of pressure from Morocco and its allies France and the United States, which are pushing for a normalisation of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara. If this is not the case, all parties should be happy to see this information reinstated – that would be sufficient rebuttal.

Division of Western Sahara under the terms of the 1991 ceasefire agreement. Map from MINURSO.

Show me the text of MIlitary Agreement #1

November 1, 2011

Put pressure on UN Peackeeping and MINURSO, the UN peacekeeping force in Western Sahara, to reinstate the text of Military Agreeement #1 and Map No: A4-010 on the MINURSO website. This text and map clearly contradict Moroccan claims that it controls all of Western Sahara and that the Polisario independence movement has no presence there (see this earlier post for a discussion, this schematic representation of the ceasefire terms, and below or here for a relevant map). The absence of this information – removed by MINURSO sometime over the past year or so – plays into the hands of Morocco’s propagandists. MINURSO has not responded to repeated requests for clarification on this matter. Maybe they will take it more seriously if more people contact them.

Please write to UN Peacekeeping operations and MINURSO asking why MA #1 and Map No A4-010 have been removed from the MINURSO website, and requesting that they be reinstated.

You can contact UN Peacekeeping operations at http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/about/contact.asp, and you can email MINURSO at minursoinformationofficer@un.org [update: some email has bounced back from this address, so make sure you also contact peacekeeping via the web form in the above link]. Suggested text is below, or write you own.

Suggested text

Dear Sir or Madam

I am trying to find official copies of Military Agreement (MA) #1 and Map No: A4-010, relating to the 1991 ceasefire agreement between the Moroccan Armed Forces and the Frente Polisario in Western Sahara. These were available via the MINURSO local website prior to 2010. However, since the website has been redesigned these materials have not been available on the MINURSO site, and do not appear to be available on any other UN websites.

Could you please point me to a publicly available official UN source of this text.

I would also be very grateful for any information as to why this text has been removed from the MINURSO website, and request that these documents be reinstated.

Yours faithfully


In 1975 Morocco invaded Western Sahara. In 1991 the UN brokered a ceasefire between the Moroccan Armed Forces and the Polisario independence movement. The United Nations MIssion for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was established to organise a referendum on self determination for this disputed, non-self governing territory, and to monitory the ceasefire.The terms of the ceasefire were set out in Military Agreement (MA) #1 and Map No A4-010 (see image here), which describe the zones defined under the ceasefire, as follows:One 5 kilometres (3 mi) wide Buffer Strip (BS) to the South and East side of the Berm [the 1500 km wall built by Morocco to secure the areas it has occupied in the north and west of Western Sahara];Two 30 kilometres (19 mi) wide Restricted Areas (RA) along the Berm. The Buffer Strip is included in the Restricted Area on the POLISARIO side and the Berm is included in the Restricted Area on the RMA side;

Two Areas with Limited Restrictions (ALR), which are the two remaining vast, stretches of land of Western Sahara on both sides respectively.

The text of MA #1 is embarrassing to Morocco, which repeatedly claims to control all of Western Sahara. The reality of partition means that Morocco’s plan for limited autonomy for the territory is unworkable. The Autonomy Plan ignores the fact that this “solution” can only apply to the areas of Western Sahara under Moroccan control, and not to the entire territory. It also ignores the plight of some 165,000 Sahrawi refugees displaced by the conflict. Moroccan propagandists claim that the areas to the south and east of the Berm are a “buffer strip” set up by the UN, from which the Polisario is barred. In fact, these are made up of the Restricted Area and the Area of Limited Restrictions, which are equivalent to the areas on the Moroccan controlled side of the Berm.

Sometime in 2010 the text of MA #1 and Map No A4-010 were removed from the MINURSO website, an action that is beneficial to Morocco and prejudicial to the peace process. A peacekeeping force mandated to monitor a ceasefire should be transparent with respect to its mandate and objectives. MINURSO is not, and the removal of this vital information could be interpreted as an action designed to favour Morocco in its propaganda campaign. MINURSO have ignored repeated enquiries regarding this matter.

Trojan Horse, by Rolando de la Rosa

December 16, 2008


A couple of weeks ago I visited the camps around Tindouf to talk about our achaeological work in the Free Zone at a Sahrawi cultural festival. While I was in the region I took the opportunity to spend a few days in Tifariti, where the ArTifariti event was taking place. This involved a host of international artists (mostly Catalan, Basque, and “mainstream” Spanish, but with a good smattering of other nationalities also represented) descending on Tifariti and being let loose to create various artworks. The work I liked most was this one by Mexican Artist Rolando de la Rosa. It consists of a horse whose body is made from oil drums, and whose head is constructed from a bomb detonated by Land Mine Action.

I saw Rolando in Auserd camp after the Tifariti event, and he told me that plans were afoot to install the horse near the Berm, where it could gaze accusingly at the occupying forces. I also like the work of the Algerian artists who were making a bombed-out building destroyed towards the end of the hostilities before the 1991 ceasefire a bit more cheerful and interesting.

More photos here.

Western Sahara – The Partition

July 13, 2007

Western Sahara Map

Western Sahara Map,
originally uploaded by Western Sahara Project.

Most of the media stories about Western Sahara and the arguments over Morocco’s “Autonomy Plan” give the impression that the entire territory of Western Sahara has been annexed by Morocco. The implication is that the question of limited “self government” as part of a greater Morocco, as opposed to independence, is really one of whether the rest of the world should accept the done deal of Morocco’s occupation and annexation of Western Sahara.

However, the reality on the ground is more complex. Western Sahara is in actual fact partitioned into a region occupied by Morocco (about two thirds of the territory), and one controlled by the Polisario independence movement. The latter is known locally as the “Free Zone” and consists of all the territory to the right (east and south) of the red line shown on this UN map. The areas to the left (west and north) of the red line are those occupied by Morocco.

The red line itself represents the line of defensive works that Morocco has built to seal off the occupied territories from the Free Zone. This line of earthworks, which exploits the natural topography, is known as “The Berm”. Although this map shows the Berm as being contained entirely within the territory of Western Sahara, it actually extends into Mauritania, where the official border between Western Sahara and Mauritania makes a sharp turn to the east (i.e. where the Berm is shown as just about touching the border where the latter forms a right angle). Presumably the Mauritanians don’t feel inclined or able to make a fuss about this Moroccan annexation of an admittedly very tiny and not especially useful part of their country, and the UN don’t want to embarrass them by making public the fact that Morocco has taken some of their territory and they aren’t doing anything about it.

The point of all this is that, even if Morocco’s occupation in Western Sahara is “normalised” via international acceptance of its autonomy plan (as favoured by the United States and some other countries), the problem won’t be solved. A rump Western Sahara will still remain, controlled by the Polisario, which is under pressure from the 160,000 – 200,000 Sahrawi refugees in Algeria to renew the conflict. The autonomy plan will solve nothing, and the conflict will still fester. It may even explode into violence as the exiled Sahrawi and the Polisario feel they have nothing to lose, the rest of the world having betrayed the UN’s promise to arrange a referendum on self-determination. Self determination might be compatible with annexation in the tortuous Byzantine arguments of Morocco and it’s supporters, but the Polisario and the exiled Sahrawi (as well as many if not most of those living under Moroccan occupation) view it as meaning, well, the right to determine their own future and political status.

Unfortunately, most of the politicians tasked with deciding whether their countries should reward Morocco’s occupation and annexation of this disputed territory seem to be entirely unaware of the political and geographical realities on the ground. They seem to believe that by endorsing Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara they will help to solve the problem of Western Sahara’s status. They are wrong. Endorsing an annexation is morally reprehensible. Endorsing a partial annexation is just stupid.

Way smoothed for genocide in Western Sahara

February 27, 2007
The following is extracted and edited from a letter to Charles Clarke, my Member of Parliament. Morocco is being extremely active in promoting its new plan for the the disputed territory of Western Sahara, which it partially occupies, and has had a number of “constructive” talks with European politicians in recent weeks. Morocco has been praised for its efforts by a number of individuals and bodies, including political representatives of the EU. It appears that the way is being smoothed for Morocco to implement its own, unilateral “solution” to the problem of Western Sahara.The Moroccan plan involves what Morocco calls “regional autonomy” for the territory of Western Sahara within a greater Morocco. This plan rejects any future negotiations with the Polisario Independence government regarding the region’s status, and excludes a referendum on independence, counter to the rulings of the International Court of Justice and the United Nations, and the public position of the government of the United Kingdom, all of which claim to support the right of self-determination of the indigenous Sahrawi people. Morocco’s strategy appears to be to normalise its occupation of Western Sahara by appearing to give ground by granting autonomy, while in actual fact consolidating its control and neutralising the efforts of the international community to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region.

Western Sahara is in reality partitioned between a Moroccan-occupied zone (the majority of the territory) and what the Sahrawi refer to as the “Free Zone”. The latter consists of most of the regions bordering Algeria and Mauritania in the east, and is of significant size. It is in the Free Zone that I and my colleagues conduct our field research, so I can speak on this matter on the basis of first hand experience.

If the international community supports Morocco’s plan to incorporate Western Sahara into a greater Morocco, the status of the Free Zone will be a key issue. Most commentators and politicians seem to be under the impression that Morocco occupies the entire territory of Western Sahara, and that support for its position would simply involve accepting the existing annexation, meaning nothing much would change. I suspect that if the reality of the situation (and the geography of the region) was understood better, there would be more concern about the security implications of the Moroccan approach.

Accepting the Moroccan position that Western Sahara is a part of Morocco is likely to lead to one of the following outcomes, all of which have severe security implications:

1. Morocco consolidates its occupation of existing territory but does not attempt to occupy the Free Zone, which remains under Polisario control, essentially becoming a de facto Sahrawi state. An uneasy peace continues as Algeria exerts pressure on the Polisario to avoid conflict with Morocco, but continues to support them as part of its ongoing political conflict with Morocco.

2. Morocco consolidates its occupation but does not enter the Free Zone. However, under pressure from the exiled Sahrawi population the Polisario declares war against Morocco, once it is apparent that they have nothing to lose, the international community having washed its hands of the issue. The scale and consequences of the ensuing conflict depend largely on the position of Algeria.

3. Morocco immediately attempts to occupy the Free Zone to extend its control over the entire territory of Western Sahara and in order to remove a potential future threat from a Polisario-controlled Free Zone. The Polisario resist, and the conflict drags in Algeria, and possibly Mauritania. (The Moroccan wall which separates the occupied territories from the Free Zone has already annexed a small area of Mauritanian territory. This is not shown on any maps – perhaps to avoid embarrassment to Mauritania – but is apparent on the ground and visible on satellite imagery.)

4. With the help of the West, Morocco makes a deal with Algeria in which Algeria agrees to restrain the Polisario from restarting the conflict as Morocco completes its occupation. A best case outcome under this scenario would be the dispersal of the exiled Sahrawi population in Algeria, Mauritania and other countries (including the EU and countries such as the UK). A worst case outcome would be that the Sahrawi in the camps resist and are expelled or exterminated by the Algerian security forces. With nothing to lose, the Sahrawi, who have to date been vehemently against terrorism in support of their cause, might change this position. Eschewing terrorism has certainly not helped them regain their homeland.

None of these scenarios is particularly optimistic, ranging from a festering of the conflict for decades to come to the possibility of actual genocide, with the emergence of new recruits to terrorism a possibility.

We can be certain that in its desire for the Sahrawi to disappear and in its repeated denial of the existence of the Sahrawi people, the Moroccan state is on the road to genocide, at least of the cultural variety. Whether this translates into actual extermination remains to be seen and will depend on whether the physical conflict resumes.

While this is on the one hand a question of justice and human rights, it is also an issue of international security. No-one will benefit from renewed war in the Maghreb. The only options for ending this conflict are to allow Morocco effectively to exterminate the Sahrawi people and their culture (the likely consequence of “political realism” on the part of the West), or to exert pressure on Morocco to enter into real and meaningful negotiations on self determination aimed at restoring Western Sahara to the Sahrawi people. The latter has been the preferred approach (at least in principle) of the United Nations and the international community, but efforts to this end have failed because of the lack of pressure on Morocco from UN member states. Indeed, Morocco has used its considerable diplomatic weight to sabotage the peace process since it began in 1991. There is little to be gained by telling the Sahrawi and their political leaders in the Polisario that they should accept an illegal occupation of their land and return to live under the control of an oppressive occupying power which would not welcome them, and which routinely tortures and sometimes murders their kin who live in the occupied territories.

Political pressure from Western governments can make a real difference here, helping to deliver security to a region beset by conflict for decades, and justice to a people who have lived in exile for over thirty years, perhaps even saving them from a possible genocide.