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State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Western Sahara

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 11 March 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Western Sahara, 11 March 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48a7ead943.html [accessed 22 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Attempts were made to break the deadlock over Western Sahara in 2007. In June 2007, the two sides – the Moroccan government and the Algerian-based Polisario Front – held talks under the auspices of the UN in New York for the first time in ten years. This followed a UN Security Council resolution 1754 in April, which called for the two parties to hold unconditional talks to achieve 'a mutually-acceptable political solution providing for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara'. It remains unclear whether the 2007 contacts have yielded anything positive, although more discussions are scheduled for 2008. However, in December 2007 the Polisario Front held a party conference in Tifariti, which is located near a so-called 'defence wall' erected by Rabat in the 1980s to repel rebel attacks. The Polisario Front regards it a 'liberated area'. It is only the second time that the Polisario have held a conference in the buffer zone, and Morocco protested to the UN Secretary-General that the move was a violation of the 1991 UN-brokered ceasefire. The dispute may yet sour any prospects for forthcoming discussions.

The Saharawis – of mixed Berber, Arab and black African descent – have long insisted on their right to nationhood. Their struggle dates back to colonial days when they rose up against the European regional powers of Spain and France. Morocco annexed the territory in 1975 – and its attempt to impose control over Western Sahara has been marked by widespread human rights abuses against the Saharawi people, including 'disappearances' and torture. The UN mission has been overseeing a ceasefire in the region since 1991, but with Morocco refusing to allow a referendum on the self-determination issue, and the Polisario Front insisting on one, progress has been non-existent. There are roughly 165,000 Saharawis in refugee camps in Algeria. Many of them have spent over three decades there.

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