The Western Sahara conflict

  • Martin Pabst Political Analyst, Munich
Keywords: The history of the Western Sahara, Morocco, Mauritania, the Liberation Movement Frente Polisario, Spanish colony, "Madrid Pact", "Frente Populár para la Liberación de Seguía el-Hamra y Río de Oro"


The history of the Western Sahara has seen many developments familiar to Africa:

  • the drawing of artificial boundaries in foreign European capitals at the tum of the century,
  • clandestine agreements between colonial and regional powers without proper consultation with the territory's population,
  • the sudden and irresponsible exit of the colonial power, Spain, which provoked the outbreak of hostilities between the contending parties (Morocco, Mauritania, the Liberation Movement Frente Polisario) at a time when the last Spanish officials and soldiers had not yet left the territory.

This conflict in a remote part of the Sahara desert has been long and painful.2 As early as 1957/58, West Saharan and Moroccan irregulars attacked the colonial troops in the territory which was then a Spanish colony. On 20 March 1973 the liberation movement "Frente Populár para la Liberación de Seguía el-Hamra y Río de Oro" (Frente Polisario) started a guerrilla war - first against the Spanish administration, then against Morocco and Mauritania. The latter two countries had partitioned and annexed the territory following their clandestine "Madrid Pact" with the outgoing colonial power Spain (14th Nov. 1975). They claimed historic links between their countries and the people in the Western Sahara. The Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice confirmed certain links with Morocco and Mauritania, but did not support annexation: It stressed the right of self-determination of the inhabitants.


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How to Cite
Pabst, M. (2012). The Western Sahara conflict. Scientia Militaria - South African Journal of Military Studies, 29.