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Mission Overview Aug 2004

The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was established by Security Council resolution 690 (1991) of 29 April 1991, following a ceasefire, and in accordance with the Settlement Plan to assist the Secretary General in the fulfilment of the United Nations mandate on the holding of a Referendum for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.

MINURSO Structure
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) serves as the Head of the Mission. In August 2003, the Secretary General appointed Mr. Alvaro de Soto (Peru) as his new Special Representative for Western Sahara. Mr. de Soto succeeded Mr. William Lacy Swing who, has been appointed as the Head of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC). The Chief of Staff holds the overall management responsibility for the staff working in the immediate office of the SRSG and provides advice to the SRSG on all political and policy matters. He is the Focal point for all sensitive personnel, management issues, the communication & coordination with all other MINURSO components and with UN Head Quarters. He is responsible for Mission-wide coordination of policy and implementation among the MINURSO components and liaises with UN specialized agencies. The Force Commander heads the military component, which carries out the ceasefire monitoring function and reports directly to the SRSG. The Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) is responsible for all administrative functions and provides the requisite administrative support for carrying out the substantive work of the mission and reports directly to the SRSG. The Head of the Tindouf Liaison Office coordinates elements from all MINURSO components, liaises with POLISARO and refugees; and provides assistance to UN agencies and NGOs.

MINURSO Partners
World Food Programme (WFP) provides a basic diet for 155,000 refugees (66.6 metric tons) costing US$ 14 million per year. Donor dependency vs. donor fatigue as new emergencies compete for limited resources. Malnutrition and stunting prevalent in children. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has repatriated 1249 POWs since 1984; 413 remain (world's longest detained). UNHCR manages the Confidence Building Measures, which include telephone and mail service between Saharan refugees in Tindouf area, (Algeria) with their community of origin in Western Sahara and the family exchange visit program. UNMAS employs UN Military Observers to discover and mark mines and UXO. It also coordinates safety and awareness training and operates an information management system for mine action.

Brief History of the Western Sahara Conflict

1884 1965 1966 1973 Beginning of Spanish colonial occupation of the Western Sahara. UN General Assembly adopts resolution calling for decolonization of Western Sahara. UN General Assembly calls for self-determination in Western Sahara to be exercised through a referendum. Founding of the Frente POLISARIO (Front for Liberation of Saguia El Hamra and Rio de Oro), which begins armed struggle against Spain. International Court of Justice declares that the people of Western Sahara have the right to self-determination. On 6 November 350,000 Moroccans cross into the Territory - the "Green March". Spain agrees to hand over the colony to Morocco and Mauritania. Spain pulls out. POLISARIO declares the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic. War begins: POLISARIO vs. Morocco-Mauritania. Morocco annexes south after Mauritanians sign a peace agreement with POLISARIO. Morocco begins building a 3200 KM fortified sand wall North-South through the Territory. Morocco and POLISARIO agree in principle to the settlement proposals of the UN Secretary-General and Chairman of the then Organization of African Unity (OAU). The proposals provide for a ceasefire and for the holding of a referendum on self-determination under the auspices of the UN in cooperation with the OAU. Ceasefire begins; MINURSO begins deployment. Start of Identification process of potential voters in the Territory. Publication of the First Provisional Voter List; start of Appeals process. January: Publication of the Second Provisional Voters List. February 2000: 131,038 appeals over the UN provisional list of 86, 425 voters stymied the identification process and delayed refugee return indefinitely. Draft Framework Agreement (joint transitional administration of the Territory) Four Options to Security Council: Settlement Plan; Draft Framework Agreement; Partition of Territory or UN Withdrawal. The Security Council asks Baker for a new plan. UNSG Personal Envoy James Baker proposes a new plan to the parties. Security Council expressed its strong support to the efforts of the Secretary General and his Personal Envoy and similarly supports their peace plan for self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. POLISARIO declares Baker Plan a take it or leave it option, while presenting a number of comments and reservations. Algeria, also supports the plan, but declines to negotiate on behalf of POLISARIO. Morocco, declining to accept the peace plan, expresses its willingness to negotiate a political settlement within the framework of Moroccan sovereignty and territorial integrity. Personal Envoy James Baker resigns his position citing lack of progress. Spain raises public profile looking for solution not limited to the Baker Plan.

1975 1976 1979 1981 1988

1991 1994 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003


Western Sahara Overview

Location: Geographic coordinates: Area: Border countries: Population: Languages: Life expectancy at birth: Religions: Currency: Exchange rates: Time zone: People: Ethnic origins: Northern Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Mauritania and Morocco. 24 30 N, 13 00 W 284,000 sq km Algeria 42km, Mauritania 1,561 km, Morocco 443 km 222,631 (July 1996 est.) Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic 47.01 years Muslim 1 Moroccan dirham (DH) = 100 centimes US$1 = 9.57 (2003) GMT Saharans (Sahrawis, Sahraouis) Arab, Berber

A mixture of indigenous Berbers and Arabic tribes, the Saharan peoples direct ancestors can be traced back to the XVth century when tribes from the Yemen crossed North Africa establishing themselves in the region later to be known as the Western Sahara. The difficult environmental conditions, cold dry winters, scorching summers, low irregular rainfall and rough terrain encouraged the different tribes to coexist and live together. Later, the acceptance of Islam by the Berbers and the increasing strength of the Arabic culture gave the tribes people a predominantly Arabic bias. The Saharan people and culture evolved as a result of this mixture of tribes. The Saharan people were essentially nomadic, pasturing cattle in the sandy low-lying plains and moving in accordance with the seasons, their routes dictated by wells and watering holes. In the traditional Saharan culture, each tribe and sub-tribe (fraction) regulated its affairs through an assembly (djemma) composed of the most respected family heads, under a selected sheikh. Disputes were handled in a friendly way or by compensation according to Islamic laws. More serious disputes were taken at the tribal level to an assembly of sheikhs known as the ait arbein, or council of forty.

Geography and Climate

Western Sahara covers 284,000 square kms which is approximately one tenth the size of its neighbour Algeria (about one-half the size of France). The Sahara has one of the harshest climates in the world. Located in the trade winds belt, the region is subject to winds that are frequently strong and that blow constantly from the northeast between a subtropical high-pressure cell and an equatorial low-pressure cell. As air moves downward from the high-pressure into the low-pressure cell, it becomes warmer and drier and sandstorms are common. With 25 mm annually, rainfall is infrequent, but can be torrential. The heat is extreme with summer temperatures reaching the mid-fifties C. Winter temperatures are moderate but can drop to close to 0 C during nights. The region can be roughly divided into three topographical zones. The steep mountainous rocky desert, formed by the chain of Atlas mountains and the hills of Zemmour, forms the north east zone. The river basins of the Wadi Draa to the north and the Jat to the west where water gathers in the depressions during the brief autumn rainy season forms the second zone. Here the high temperatures and evaporation rates mean that the water never reaches the sea but sufficient moisture is retained along the edges of the rivers for cattle grazing and some cereal cropping.

The third, inland zone consists of flat low lying plains of hard rock with some ergs and sand dunes. The ground is too porous for water to retain the autumn rain, and too flat to allow it to flow, so it accumulates underground in numerous wells. The inland climate is typically continental - extremely hot summers (with temperatures reaching over 60 degrees C in the shade) and cold dry winters.

Western Sahara, a territory poor in natural resources and having little rainfall, depends on pastoral nomadism, fishing, and phosphate mining as the principal sources of income for the population. Most of the food for the urban population must be imported. All trade and other economic activities are controlled by the Moroccan Government. The Moroccan economy has substantial assets to draw upon: the worlds largest phosphate reserves, diverse agricultural and fishing resources, a sizable tourist industry, a growing manufacturing sector and remittances from Moroccans working abroad. However, incomes and standards of living in Western Sahara are substantially below the Moroccan level.

MINURSO Headquarters
P.O. BOX 80,000 Laayoune, Western Sahara
Telephone: +1 (212) 963-5111 Fax: +1 (212) 963-3024