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, and you can email MINURSO at [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.

Foreign friends

February 18, 2009

History demonstrates that unpleasant regimes bent on suppressing dissent and menacing their neighbours can always find foreign apologists who are ready to scurry to their defence without bothering to understand precisely what it is they are defending. It seems that Morocco is no exception in having an army of foreign sycophants ready to fight for its right to expand its territory through force and stamp on anyone who might object to its imperial designs. A growing chorus of appeasement can be heard from lobbyists, politicians and certain elements of the media by anyone who tunes into the news on Western Sahara.

The Francophone world has always been keen on Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara (with some noble exceptions), and this phenomenon shows no sign of abating. The latest bare-faced brown-nosing comes from the mayor for Woippy (no, I’d never heard of it either), François Grosdidier, who also happens to be vice-president of the French-Moroccan friendship group in the French parliament. In a article in Religious Intelligence (no jokes please) he is quoted regurgitating the Moroccan line. Here are a couple of choice quotes:

“Given Morocco’s legitimacy on the Sahara, this autonomy initiative, under the kingdom’s sovereignty, is wise and generous, and provides an honourable way out for all the parties.”

“[The Polisario] approach is useless, there is no point (for them) in continuing and they are no longer in the sense of history.”

It seems that French politicians love to talk about being part of history – Sarkozy has claimed that one of the problems with Africa is that “the African man has never really entered history“. Oh dear – despite the benefits of colonialism and the heroic attempts of Europe to civilise the benighted continent, not to mention all those fantastically well-conceived post-colonial development initiatives, those ungrateful Africans haven’t grasped the nettle of historical progress and lifted themselves “up” to the same level as Europe. What a pity Sarkozy doesn’t realise that ideas of historical progress are based on perversions of Darwinian evolutionary theory that have more to do with justifying racism and colonialism than they do with rational scientific enquiry. Unfortunately the dogma of historical progress is still used to justify aggression dressed up as the promotion and extension of civilisation – something else I’ve noticed in the arguments of those that support Rabat’s military push into the Sahara. But I digress.

Grosdidier also claims that the Western Sahara conflict is impairing international relations, and uses this as an argument for supporting the autonomy initiative. As I’ve argued on several previous occasions (e.g. here), this is indicative of a poor understanding of the the situation, as the autonomy plan does not address the reality of partition or the issue of the refugees around Tindouf – as if Morocco would welcome tens of thousands of independence-minded Sahrawi and make any real attempt to come to an agreement with the Polisario. Grosdidier says that “pluralism does not exist” in the camps, but I don’t see too much evidence of it in occupied Western Sahara either.

I sometimes wonder what drives certain European politicians (and I include the UK here) who seem so eager to offer their services to foreign governments, effectively acting as agents of foreign powers with little or no regard to the interests of the people whom they have been elected to serve. After Blair’s stint as Bush’s enforcer/poodle (delete according to your preference), which served only to support ill-conceived foreign policy adventures and increase risks to British citizens, some of us are a little annoyed with this sort of behaviour. Well, maybe it’s just the money, the power, the foreign junkets, or a simple messiah complex.

It’s not only politicians that are busy appeasing Moroccan aggression, and not only in Europe. I keep receiving news alerts from the African Press Agency (with the byline “Unity is in Truth”), based in Dakar, Senegal, which could have been written by the Moroccan interior ministry. A common theme is how so-and-so supports the autonomy initiative or hails Morocco’s commitment to solve the conflict. The border between Western Sahara and Morocco is conspicuous by its absence on the the maps on the APA website. Hell, they could even use a dashed line rather than a solid one if they wanted to reflect its unresolved status, but I suppose even that would be too much for their Moroccan friends.

Another unedifying spectacle is this love-in between the author and the outgoing Moroccan ambassador. Reading it is like watching two extremely ugly people make out in public – a nauseating experience which makes you think “is that really necessary?” (No offence intended to the extremely ugly by the way.)

The Lebanese Dar al-Hayat has also been at it, or at least one Mohammed el-Ashab has, writing in its pages. el-Ashab talks about the Sahrawi’s “popular reluctance to unite under one umbrella”, which he claims is the biggest obstacle to solving the conflict. So not the partition or the blocking of the referendum then? To cast the problem as one of divisions between the Sahrawi rather than one of invasion, occupation, displacement and partition is disingenuous to say the least. He also talks about “the cease-fire which classified the areas outside the security fence as buffer zones in which no military or civilian movement is allowed.” Well, actually, it didn’t. The buffer zone, into which neither side is allowed, extends for only 5km east and south of the berm, i.e. in the Polisario controlled areas. Restricted areas extend for 30km either side of the berm, and no arms are to be carried in these areas. Outside of the restricted areas are two vast “areas with limited restrictions” in which normal military activity is allowed with the exception of anything that would constitute a concentration of firepower. As I’ve pointed out before, these conditions of the ceasfire are set out on the MINURSO website, which Mohammed el-Ashab evidently has not bothered to examine before putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. Not that he’s unusual in such uninformed pontificating (or is it deliberate misinformation?). Using elections as his theme, el-Ashab strives to convince us that everyone (the UN, the EU) is happy to see Morocco “practicing sovereignty in all its forms – including holding elections in all parts of the country since 1978”. I assume the country he is referring to is a putative greater Morocco which incorporates all of Western Sahara, although he doesn’t make it clear how Morocco has been or will be holding elections in the parts of Western Sahara that it doesn’t control. From his statement about “the frequent announcement of the “Polisario Front” that it operates in regions described as “liberated lands”” it seems that he might believe Morocco’s propaganda line that the Polisario doesn’t control any territory in Western Sahara, but this is not clear. I like the placing of “Polisario Front” in inverted commas – usually a sign of hostility.

There’s much more where all the above came from, and I’ll perodically highlight it. Of course if you want a real giggle you can always go to any number of websites whose purpose is to promote Moroccan interests and push pro-Morocco propaganda, such as that of the Morocco Board, the Moroccan-American Center for Policy, Maghreb Arabe Presse, CORCAS, or the dedicated anti-Polisario (and personal defamation) sites such as Polisario Confidential, Polisario Think Twice, Polisario Cannibals and Polisario Human Sacrifice. OK, I made the last two up, but those are about the only allegations that Morocco has not leveled at the Polisario.

All of this propaganda is designed to give the impression that the conflict is effectively over and that Moroccan control over Western Sahara is all but a done deal. The point of all the misinformation dissemminated by Morocco and its foreign toadies is to persuade people that all they have to do is endorse the situation on the ground and the issue of Western Sahara will go away, userhing in a new era of regional cooperation, development and progress. But of course it won’t, as long as Western Sahara remains partitioned and between 100,000 and 200,000 disaffected Sahrawi remain in camps in the inhospitable Algerian desert. Even if Morocco’s autonomy plan is officially endorsed by the likes of the EU, the USA and the UN, the reality on the ground will still poison the politics of the region. And the African Union still stands behind the Polisario and the Sahrawi’s right to self-determination. Morocco may be planning to further entrench its position by invading the Polisario controlled areas once its autonomy plan gets the green light from the world’s major political powers, but this is hardly likely to achieve the stated aims of all those foreign politicians and pundits who are so keen to promote autonomy in the name of progress.

Related link: (Western Sahara Info)

Interrogating the occupation

June 25, 2008

Last night I ventured into Westminster to attend the UK launch of Professor Abdelhamid El Ouali’s argument for Morocco’s Autonomy Plan for Western Sahara, in the form of a book entitled Saharan Conflict: Towards Territorial Autonomy as a Right to Democratic Self-Determination (see an earlier entry). The launch was held in the Houses of Parliament, presumably a symbolic choice meant to emphasise the democratic nature of the Autonomy Plan (a link made by the professor in his speech). In brief, the autonomy plan provides for limited self-determination for the disputed territory of Western Sahara within a greater Morocco, while precluding the possibility of full independence for the territory.

It was a fairly low-key affair. Most of the audience consisted of Moroccans, including the ambassador to the UK (apparently not the one who complained to the Foreign Office about my academic activities in 2004), and a fair few embassy staff. Lord someone-or-other introduced Professor El Ouali, but apart from that members of the Commons and Lords were conspicuous by their absence. One or two civil servants (one of whom apparently advised the UK government on rendition), a previous British Ambassador to Rabat, less than a handful of journalists, and a few others with regional interests were also present. Representatives of the publishers, Stacey International, were also there, overseeing sales of the book (£16.95 – no sign of it on Amazon yet).

I went hoping to raise some concerns about the autonomy plan in the question and answer session that I assumed would follow a comprehensive presentation. However, I was disappointed. Professor El Ouali gave a short, fairly informal talk, the gist of which was that times had changed and we had to deal with new realities, independence was no longer relevant or appropriate as an option, autonomy was all about building democracy and securing human rights, and the fact that things weren’t panning out as they should was all down to those awkward Algerians. No mention was made of Polisario. Immediately after his talk, we were invited to enjoy the hospitality (wine, soft drinks, no nibbles), buy the book, and mingle. There was no opportunity for questions or discussion.

Determined not to waste my six hour round trip to the Mother of Parliaments, I duly joined the queue of embassy staff and autonomy sympathisers eagerly lining up to have their copies signed. After a while being bypassed by the queue of admirers, I took my chance to introduce myself to Professor El Ouali and ask the question that has been bothering me for some time.

The question in question is, what is the plan for the Polisario-controlled areas of Western Sahara (i.e. the “Free Zone”) under the autonomy proposal? Are these to be left as a rump Sahrawi state, or will Morocco attempt to complete its acquisition of Western Sahara by force, risking further regional instability and conflict? The professor answered that the autonomy plan could only be implemented if it had the agreement of all the parties to the conflict, including the Polisario.

So far, so good. However, he then went on to say (I’m paraphrasing, but this is a pretty faithful rendition) “You’re talking about the ‘Liberated Territories’ – this is a myth. Polisario has never liberated any of this land. it is a buffer zone set up by Morocco.” Needless to say I pointed out to him that I run a research project in these very territories, and work with the Polisario in this context. Having travelled extensively in the Polisario-controlled areas (Lajuad, Mijek, Tifariti, Zug, you name it), I’m fully aware that the “buffer zone” is a face-saving Moroccan flim-flam, a story concocted to conceal the reality that Western Sahara is in fact already partitioned between the two warring parties.

My unmasking as someone from “the other side” seemed to cause some discomfort, but to his credit the Professor regained his composure and suggested that we talk at greater length later on, which we duly did (after he’d apparently checked up on me with his embassy colleagues – apparently both I and this blog are quite familiar to them, so ahlan wa sahlan if you’re reading).

In our subsequent discussion, Professor El Ouali was very keen to persuade me of the value of the autonomy plan, and of both his sincerity and his credentials (as someone who has worked extensively with refugees and at a high level in UNHCR). He, and some of the other Moroccans there, said that they were very keen on the idea of finding common ground and real, practical, and just solutions to the conflict. I even received an invitation to explore the issue at greater length in Morocco – flattering given that when it comes to politics I’m not exactly anyone’s representative, just a blogger with a point of view and some relevant travel experience.

On the surface this is all very encouraging, and the Moroccans I spoke to all gave the impression that they were keen to find common ground to resolve the conflict (and they were all very personable and friendly, in stark contrast to some of their compatriots who haunt the blogosphere). However, I’m very, very sceptical as to how much will there really is in the Moroccan establishment to find a real solution to the Western Sahara conflict.

Professor El Ouali kindly gave me a copy of his book, and I will make good on my promise to read it. Time permitting, I might even write a review. Having had a quick flick through it, I have to say that I don’t disagree with everything he writes. For example, I concur with his comments about globalisation. However, I think we will continue to disagree about the autonomy plan, for the reasons outlined below. What follows is a general argument about autonomy, not a response to the particulars of Professor El Ouali’s book. However, the argument does hark back to his comments about the nature of the Polisario-controlled areas.

The existence of the Free Zone and of the exiled Sahrawi refugees in the camps around Tindouf together represent a very serious stumbling block to the autonomy plan, under which there seem to be three broad possible outcomes (assuming the plan is to go ahead):

i. Polisario, with the support of the exiled Sahrawi community, voluntarily gives up the Free Zone so that it can become part of an autonomous Saharan region within a greater Morocco. The refugees return home and everyone lives happily ever after. A problem with this scenario is that, even if Morocco granted the refugees the right of return, it’s far from certain that they would want to take it (1). Furthermore, does Morocco really want all those potentially troublesome Sahrawi nationalists flooding back into an autonomous Saharan province, where they may well form a majority of the population? I hear that for all the infrastructure development that is going on in the occupied territories, no plans have been laid to build homes for returning refugees. I don’t think the Moroccans are expecting them back any time soon.

ii. The autonomy plan is implemented, but only in the regions currently occupied by Morocco. The Free Zone is left as a rump Sahrawi state under the control of the Polisario or whatever form of government may evolve among the exiled Sahrawi community. Refugees settle in the Free Zone to the extent that resources (principally water) permit. Whether the Free Zone could support some 160,000 people is debatable. If the Free Zone was settled, Morocco would have to live with a Sahrawi state full of disgruntled inhabitants who would still hanker after their old homeland across the border. This, presumably, is not on the Moroccan agenda. Under this scenario the autonomy plan would merely crystalise the current situation, and might increase tension in the region over the long term.

iii. Morocco extends its control throughout the entire territory of Western Sahara by invading the Free Zone. This would result in conflict with the Polisario, possible conflict with Algeria, and could destabilise the Maghreb as a whole.

Of course there is a fourth option – that the implementation of the autonomy plan depends of the agreement of all the parties to the conflict, that this is not forthcoming, and, er, nothing happens. At the moment this seems to be the most likely outcome, at least in the short term. So what exactly is the purpose of the plan?

The autonomy plan is predicated on two fictions. First, that Western Sahara is simply a part of Morocco with a troublesome secessionist movement, when in reality it is a partially occupied territory that has been partitioned between Morocco and the Polisario. Second, that the refugees in the camps around Tindouf would be happy, and welcome, to return to their homeland as Moroccan subjects. While the proponents of the plan are presumably aware of these problems, they are never addressed, suggesting that the plan does not represent a serious attempt to resolve the conflict. It is the view of this blogger that the autonomy plan is a stalling tactic designed to defuse criticism of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, and to discredit the Polisario (2). It seems to be the latest ruse via which Morocco seeks to avoid the holding of a referendum, while appearing to act constructively on the issue. It may seem like a solution to those not familiar with the realities of partition, which is why Morocco tries so hard to play down the existence of the Free Zone, and consistently underestimates the number, and misrepresents the aspirations, of the Sahrawi refugees in the Tindouf camps. I look forward to finding out if these issues are addressed in Professor El Ouali’s book, but I won’t be holding my breath as I turn the pages.



(1) I’ve often heard from Moroccan sources that the refugees are held in the camps against their will by the Polisario, that they are effectively Moroccan citizens (well, subjects) being held as hostages by a secessionist group, and that they would welcome the opportunity to return to the Moroccan homeland. The truth is somewhat different. The exiles are in the camps as the result of the Moroccan invasion and occupation of Western Sahara (they weren’t kidnapped from their homes by marauding Polisario snatch teams). They are more-or-less free to leave subject to having the right paperwork (as citizens of any country who are lucky enough to have a passport are free to leave their national territories). Sahrawi from the camps travel widely, and they are a pretty cosmopolitan bunch as a result. Many have studied abroad, and international exchanges with solidarity groups in a variety of countries are common. When rains in the Free Zone are good, some of the inhabitants of the camps take their camels there for pasture. So, whatever their flaws and democratic deficits, the camps are not prisons with Polisario troops acting as gaolers. The exiled Sahrawi that I’ve spoken to certainly want to return to Western Sahara, but they do not want to live under Moroccan sovereignty. In their decades in the camps, the exiled Sahrawi have developed a strong sense of national identity. It seems to me that they are more inclined to return to Western Sahara with Kalashnikovs, to attempt to liberate it, than they are to return to live as Moroccan subjects.

(2) As long as the Polisario refused to entertain the possibility of the full integration of Western Sahara into Morocco, Morocco accepted the idea of a referendum with options of full integration, limited autonomy within a greater Morocco, and full independence. However, the Polisario eventually agreed to a referendum including these three options. Having had its bluff called, Morocco rapidly went off the idea – presumably Rabat suffered from a sudden loss of confidence that the Sahrawi (and perhaps even Moroccan settlers in Western Sahara) would vote to be part of the Moroccan motherland.

We welcome your unreasonable comments

March 18, 2008

Magharebia, a news site sponsored by the United States Africa Command, recently ran a story about the postponement of a planned march on Tifariti by the Moroccan “NGO” the Association Sahara Marocaine (“Sahara tension mounts as Tifariti march postponed“). The Magharebia story made the common mistake of confusing the buffer zone, which extends for 5 km either side of the berm that partitions Western Sahara, with the Polisario-controlled areas east and south of the Berm. This reflects the usual Moroccan rhetoric, which presents the Polisario areas as an official buffer zone rather than areas of Western Sahara that Morocco has failed to occupy, in which Morocco has no presence, and which are firmly controlled by a government with a competing claim to the territory. The confusion about the nature and extent of the buffer zone is common among journalists, so I thought I’d give Magharebia the benefit of the doubt, and point out their mistake. The site says that it welcomes comments, so I duly sent off a clarification, with links to MINRUSO maps showing the buffer zone, the berm and the Moroccan and Polisario-controlled areas. I pointed out that the (often overlooked) existence of the Polisario controlled areas has important implications for the viability of the Moroccan autonomy plan as a “solution” to the conflict.

As of today my comment has not been published [Note: see below for update]. However, this one has:

“truth: west sahara is moroccans and was moroccans and remains moroccans, we hope that tifariti and surroundings in as soon as possible conquered and free become, there is no other solution. political agression of algerian generals against morocco is total unacceptable, we hope that they think well after because they have two keys in hands them can choose between peace and war, we hope that they choose for peace, because war means a large calamity in north africa and surroundings. peace!”

So has another opposing comment, so full of cut and paste anti-American bile that it appears to be from a wannabe Jihadi sitting in his bedroom watching Osama videos, rather than a nationalist Sahrawi. Or perhaps it’s a put up job (maybe in the interest of balance?. Maybe it’s real, and an early indication that this festering conflict and the West’s support for Morocco is pushing some Sahrawi into the familiar territory of angry fundamentalism.

Anyway, it seems that you’re allowed to comment on this US military sponsored website if you’re a belligerent, ranting, hate-filled fundamentalist of whatever persuasion, but not if you’re someone with a valid and reasonably worded comment that takes issue with a misleading factual inaccuracy in one of Magharebia’s articles. I know I can be quite verbose, but I did stick within the word limit. I wonder if there is a political agenda here (surely not!). Morocco certainly doesn’t want anyone to know that there is a significant chunk of Western Sahara outside of its control. Now that the US has come out firmly in favour of Morocco’s partition – sorry, autonomy – plan, perhaps US military-sponsored news sites have been instructed to keep quiet about this matter too.

UPDATE: After I published the above entry my blog saw much more activity than usual (about 8 times the normal number of hits, with plenty of time still to go before the day is out). I’ve just checked the article on the Magharebia website and my comment has now been published. The comment was submitted 5 days ago, and has been published some time after comments submitted 4 and 2 days ago. A number of other comments submitted 4 days ago have also been published today (18 March 2008). Anyway, whether these comments have been “released” in response to this post, or whether the delay was just due to a glitch or distracted moderator, it’s good to see them there.

Of all the 8 comments currently visible on the site, one is mine, one is a request for impartiality in the administration of the site, one is pro-Sahrawi, and the remaining 5 are pro-Moroccan. Interestingly, one of the pro-Moroccan comments accuses the Algerian authorities of “playing the game of the Zionists”. So Israel has been dragged into this by both sides in these comments (see also the one pro-Sahrawi comment, which is rather belligerent, but it is hardly alone in this respect). Neither of these (pro- nor anti-Moroccan) comments acknowledges the fact that, as part of a mutual back-scratching agreement between Morocco and Israel, there is an understanding that Israel will help to promote Moroccan interests. The author of the pro-Moroccan post who attacks Algeria for being like “the Zionists” might want to rethink his comments and take a more positive position regarding this new Moroccan ally.

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.