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State of the World's Minorities 2006 - Morocco

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 22 December 2005
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2006 - Morocco, 22 December 2005, available at: [accessed 23 November 2017]
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.

Western Sahara

Western Sahara has a population of about 250,000 and another 160,000 Saharawis live in refugee camps in southern Algeria, where they have been for up to 26 years as Morocco continues to claim it has the right to administer Western Sahara. That claim is not formally recognized by any country and the UN classifies Western Sahara as a 'non-self governing territory'.

The country's oil reserves have become a factor in the struggle. The US and other major consumers are looking for alternative sources to the Middle East and West Africa is seen as both relatively stable and having a straight route to refineries on the US eastern seaboard. The Rabat authorities have granted exploration and exploitation licences in the Western Sahara region under its administration to US, French and British companies.

On 24 May 2005, the first North African heads of state summit for over 10 years was abandoned when Morocco objected to Algeria's reiteration of its support for Polisario (the movement fighting for independence of Western Sahara). Also in May 2005, Polisario's chief negotiator told Reuters News Agency that it was considering resuming the armed struggle if there was no breakthrough in the UN led peace talks within six months. The current deal on the table provides for the Western Sahara to be given self-rule for a period of four to five years. After that, its long-term residents and the refugees in Algerian camps would vote in a referendum to choose whether the territory is to be fully integrated with Morocco, continue to have autonomy within the Moroccan state or become independent.

This plan has been accepted by Polisario but rejected by Morocco. The Polisario Front accused the Moroccan government of ferocious repression following disturbances in May 2005. Trouble broke out in the main city of the disputed territory, Laayoune. Moroccan authorities say the Polisario instigated politically motivated riots; the independence movement counters that the demonstrations were peaceful protests against Morocco's intransigence in the long-running dispute. Arrests followed in what an official for the UN mission in Western Sahara, MINURSO, which has spent more than US$6 million trying to settle the dispute since the cease-fire, said were the most serious disturbances in six years. In July 2005 a Moroccan court jailed 12 Western Saharan separatists, following the violent protests.


Dispossession of natural resources has also sparked protests by Morocco's Berber population. After Mohamed VI ascended the throne, Morocco changed the Hydrocarbon Code, raising the interest of foreign companies. At the beginning of 2000, Shell signed five licences for marine exploitation over an area of 9,000 square km in the Moroccan Atlantic. During the same period, the US Company Lone Star Energy signed three exploitation licences for the Talsint region over an area of 6,000 square km, and another three reconnaissance licences – two of which were opposite Larache city.

Lone Star is extracting oil from the large oil fields, thought to contain 20 billion barrels of crude, near the town of Talsinnt, in south-eastern Morocco. The oil field lies about 160 km from the Algerian border. The oil well is heavily guarded and a military escort is required to reach the site. Berbers, who comprise 60 per cent of the Moroccan population, say any revenue collected should benefit them. During French colonization, a decree enabled the government to appropriate communal Berber lands. Independence has not changed this and the impetus towards dispossession continues.

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