meanwhile a re-organization of the Saharawi indipendentist forces
began in the cities, in the towns and among the refugees in the near
countries, starting with sporadic demonstrations against the Spanish
domination. Such process brought Mohamed Sidi Brahim Bassiri to
found, in 1967, an indipendentist and clandestine political
organization, known as "Harakat Tahrir Saguia El Hamra wa Uad
Ed-Dahab" or simply "Movement for the Liberation of the Sahara"
whose objective was to re-unite and canalize the popular forces and
actions of the Movement did not have military character and took the
shape of civil resistance: strikes, demonstrations, teaching of the
Arabic language and the Saharawi history.
was decreed in 1969, followed by a series of arrestations and
expulsions, which moved the UN to recall Spain to the application of
resolution 1514 (XV) on the decolonization.
same year the Spanish enclave of Ifni in the south became part of
the new Morocco, which
even claimed the Spanish-controlled enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla,
as well as Perejil Island (Layla Island).
17, 1970, the colonial government called for a Saharawi
manifestation in Laâyoune in order to express the adhesion to the Mother Native
Movement took advantage of the occasion to organize an intensive
campaign to mobilize the Saharawi people on behalf of their
independence. This led to a large, peaceful manifestation openly
against the colonialism and to forward to Spain a document of demand
for independence of the territory.
hundreds of people gathered in the Plaza of Africa in support of the
Spanish organized rally, a larger crowd was also gathering in Zemla,
a neighbourhood on the east side of Laâyoune, and asked the
governor-general of Spanish Sahara, General Jose Maria Perez de Lema
y Tejero, to come to Zemla in order to receive the movement's
petition. The General came and the petition was read out.
Afterwards, he ordered the demonstrators to disperse. A couple hours
later, a strong squad of police came to the gathering and began
arresting some of the movement leaders. The crowd reacted by
throwing stones at the police force which requested the help of the
Spanish Foreign Legion (El Tercio).
intervention of the Spanish Foreign Legion made things worse, their
presence infuriated more the demonstrators. The Legion opened fire
and by some accounts eleven people were killed, though there has
never been a general consensus on the number of casualties.
After the so-called
Zemla intifada, manifestations took place in Smara and
Dakhla (the greater centers of the Western Sahara). Severe
repressive measures on MSL followed these demonstrations.
Hundreds were arrested, some deported and others fled the country.
Bassiri (the movement's leader) would be arrested soon after this
massacre. This incident marked the death of MLS and laid
the grounds for the birth, three years later, of the most successful
and better known Saharawi movement: Frente Polisario.
this moment, except the "heroic" period of resistance to European
colonialisms, the Saharawis were instruments in the hands of the
colonial powers or of brother countries. Morocco, Mauritania and
Algeria demanded loudly the departure of the Spaniards from the area
and called for self-determination to be exercised in Western Sahara
in line with UN resolutions, being their demand about their own
claims more than about the freedom of the natives, and mostly they
prevented any attempt to hold a self-determination referendum.
Zemla's incidents Saharawis will be more and more on the scene.
of the slaughter also created a lot more awareness in the
international community concerning the fight of the Saharawi for
resolutions passed in 1972 (n. 2983) and 1973 (n.
3162), affirming the right of Saharawis
to self determination and independence, in conformity with
universally recognised principles preserved in the UN Charter and
didn't deny that right but it also didn't take any positive steps
like Spain, didn't contest the right of self-determination, but argued that the
Saharawis had already exercised their right and opted to be an
integral part of the kingdom. During these years
Hassan II created the Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS),
an advisory committee to the
Moroccan government on the
Western Sahara, then considered as Morocco's southern provinces.
first phosphate exports were dispatched to Japan in 1972. Spain
began the exploitation of phosphate deposits with the help of 100
kilometers of conveyor up to the coast after Laâyoune, where in the
meantime modern preparation and shipment plants were established.
economic changes led to a rapid urbanisation of Saharawi society,
with the majority of the population giving up the harsh nomadic life
and settling into the main towns. Many of them took waged
employment while others set up shops as traders. Some changed from
nomadic pastoralism to sedentary agriculture. By 1974, 55% of
the Saharawis recorded in that year’s census were living in the
three main towns (Villa Cisneros, Laâyoune and Smara, out of a total
of 73.497 Saharawis recorded. However, the 1974 Spanish
census, which later became the basis for the promised
self-determination referendum, actually “missed out” a large number
of Saharawis, who had settled outside the artificial, colonially
imposed borders of the Spanish Sahara. At that time there must
have been at least 75.000 Saharawis in the former Spanish Southern Morocco,
northern Mauritania and south-western Algeria.
On May 10, 1973, the
Constitutive Congress for the Frente Polisario, was
held under the theme of "By the gun we force freedom”. The Frente Polisario (Frente POpular para la LIberacion de
SAguia el Hamra y RIO de Oro) was born as a political
movement, coming from the meeting of survivors of the MLS with a
group of Saharawi students in Morocco. The spiritual father of
the Front was El Wali Moustapha Sayed whose father was an
ex-combatant of the Liberation Army. The
political movement was used to turn people in favour of national
independence, to explain the situation of the colony on the
international level, and to accelerate the moral and financial
support to the cause. They asserted the independence of the Western
Sahara, promised by Spain.
political declaration of this first congress analysed the context of
the period and the deep reasons that pushed Saharawi People to bare
arms and to declare armed struggle against Spanish colonial
administration after the failure of peaceful struggle, violently
oppressed in June the 17th 1970 by the colonizer.
clear terms the declaration announced the reasons behind this
inevitable choice: "regarding the colonizer’s persistent will of
dominion over our People, the attempt to destroy it by ignorance,
poverty, division and its parting from Arab world and the Maghreb",
and considering "the failure of all peaceful attempts... The Popular
Front for the Liberation of Saguia et El-Hamraand Rio de Oro is
constituted as the unique popular expression, adopting armed action
as a mean to totally liberate arabo-africain People of Western
Sahara from Spanish colonialism".
Polisario created an armed division known as the Saharawi Popular
Liberation Army (Ejercito de Liberacion Popular Sahraoui - ELPS).
As soon as it was established it began to fight against the
occupants. Essentially, they were carrying out short and quick
raids on limited goals, following a guerrilla warfare.
armed struggle was announced on the 20th of May, 1973,
simultaneously with the development of the political movement.
day Polisario attacked on the Spanish post of El-Khanga.
On February 20, 1973, the provincial council, the Djema'a,
asked officially Franco's Spain to allow greater participation in
the territory's administration, kind of autonomy. On September 21st
Franco sent a letter in response to Djema'a where he assured that
Spanish state solemnly repeats and guarantees that Saharawis will be
able to govern themselves. During it's session between the 13th and
15th of November 1973, Djema'a examined the Spanish project and
development plan worth 20 billion Spanish pesetas in 1974/78 period.
the Spanish regime was in serious difficulties at home while
colonial troops and Polisario forces clashed at Galb Lahmar and
Aoukeyra at the beginning of the year. A pre-revolutionary
situation was opening up with mass working class action and the
threat that the overthrow of the weakened dictatorship would open
the way for socialist transformation. The Spanish ruling class was
terrified. They feared the effects that a guerrilla war in the
Sahara would have on the situation in Spain. The example of the
Portuguese revolution that year, triggered partly by the disastrous
colonial wars in Angola and Mozambique, accelerated its plans for
internal self-government in Western Sahara. In the same time it was
not possible to have a quarrel with Morocco or with Morocco's best
sponsor, USA, partly motivated by misgivings (completely groundless)
that the Polisario had communist leanings.
knew that, if the conflict with Morocco degenerated into war, the
Moroccan forces would not take the air force and the Spanish army,
definitely stronger in number and equipment. The Spanish armed
forces counted 302.000 troops, that is to say five times more than
the FAR which had only 61.000, and the Air Force of Spain had twice
more fighters. Some 20.000 Spanish soldiers, including the
regiments of elite of the Foreign Legion, were posted in the Western
Sahara, without speaking about the thousands of troops in the Canary
the consequences of a military confrontation with Morocco in the
field of the interior Spanish policy, while the General Franco was
old of 82 years and near to death, would be incalculable. The
Spanish population was not laid out to accept a war, and if a
conflict burst, Spain would have been exposed to the diplomatic and
economic reprisals of the Arab world.
1974 the Polisario took part in the Pan-African Youth Movement meeting
in Benghazi, supported by Mauritania and Libya and opposed by
Algeria and Morocco.
Spanish government formally announced plans for internal autonomy of
Sahara, then King Hassan II protested to Franco and
launched major diplomatic campaign to lobby for support for Moroccan
claim, sending political leaders of the Istiqlal Party, the
world capitals. Consequently Algeria, regional rival of
Morocco, began for first time to give some
low-key help to the Polisario as the government of
Houari Boumédiènne committed itself to support the full
independence of Western Sahara, in opposition to Moroccan and
On August 20, 1974, Spain announced that a
self-determination would be held in the first six months of 1975
and took a census of the region in order to assess the voting
population. According to this census, which
left out some of the nomads, there were then 73.497 Saharawis and
21.522 Europeans and nationals of other countries in this area.
years of intense opposition, Spain was obliged to recognize the
right to the self-determination and independence of Saharawis; the
troops started to abandon the numerous emplacements in the hinterland
while the Polisario was holding its second congress clearly deciding in
favour of national independence.
Hassan II affirmed he could not accept a referendum including the
option of independence and warned that Morocco would go to war to
annex Western Sahara if diplomatic means fail.
these years the power of the Moroccan monarchy was in serious
crisis, and military authorities were suspected of being responsible
of two attacks to the life of the king. Hassan II took in hand the
flag of the recovery of the 'Moroccan Sahara', gathering together,
around the topic of national integrity, all the parties, taking away
the attention from the inner problems and neutralizing, also with
the violence, every opposition. The claims of Hassan II on the
Western Sahara were only a part of the dream of Greater Morocco that
aimed at 'the recovery' also of part of Algeria and Mali and the
In Mauritania, home policies were failing. The economy was stagnating
and remained strongly dependent on French aid. Moreover, drought in
the Sahel, principally in the period between 1969 and 1974, and
decline in export revenues due to fall in international prices of
iron, had lowered living standards considerably.
On September 17, 1974, King Hassan II announced his intention to
bring the issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The proposal was accepted by Mauritania.
In October, Polisario supporters sabotaged two control
stations of Bou-Craa phosphates conveyor belt.
In December the UN General
Assembly adopted the
requesting "the International Court of
Justice, without prejudice to the application of the principles
embodied in General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV), to give an
advisory opinion at an early date on the following questions:
Was Western Sahara (Saguia El-Hamra y Rio de Oro) at the time of
colonization by Spain a territory belonging to no one (terra
What were the legal ties between this territory and the Kingdom of
Morocco and the Mauritanian entity?"
On January 16,
1975, Spain officially announced the suspension of the
referendum plan, pending the opinion of the court. 65% of Bou-Craa exploitation
was sold to Morocco. King Hassan II of Morocco and the President of
Mauritania Ould Daddah made an agreement about their mutual requests
to the IJC. Algerian foreign minister, Abdelaziz Bouteflika,
contested the Moroccan claim at a meeting of Arab League foreign
May-June an important
mission of enquiry was sent by the UN
secretary-general, Kurt Waldheim to Western Sahara, Spain, Morocco,
Mauritania and Algeria. Its three members were Simeon Aké
(chairman), Marta Jiménez Martinez, and Manouchehr Pishva, diplomats
from Ivory Coast, Cuba, and Iran respectively.
The mission toured Spanish Sahara on May 12-19, 1975, after
initially having been denied entry by Spanish authorities. On May
8-12 and again on May 20-22, it visited Madrid, Spain; and from May
28 to June 1, it toured the neighbouring countries Mauritania,
Morocco and Algeria; in Algeria it also met with leaders of the
popular demonstrations welcomed the mission; a crushing majority
proclaimed support to the Frente Polisario and asserted the
independence of the country. The demonstrations followed one
another and all highlighted a political awakening of the
population. The PUNS (Partido de Unificación Nacional Saharaui
created by Spanish will the year before), appeared inconsistent.
Morocco-baked Morehob and the FLU were presented as movements of
liberation of Sahara, but they hardly manage to present their
"movements". In Algeria, in the first refugee camps, towards
Tindouf, the support for the Frente Polisario and independence
appeared incontestable. In Mauritania, in spite of the setting in
scene of the authorities, demonstrations of support to the Frente
Polisario were highlighted.
mission's conclusions about the wishes of the Saharawi people were
given on September 15, 1975, and they were unambiguous:
to the large measure of cooperation which received from the Spanish
authorities, the Mission was able, despite the shortness of its stay
in the Territory, to visit virtually all the main population centres
and to ascertain the views of the overwhelming majority of their
inhabitants. At every place visited, the Mission was met by mass
political demonstrations and had numerous private meetings with
representatives of every section of the Saharan community.
all these, it became evident to the Mission that there was an
overwhelming consensus among Saharans within the Territory in favour
of independence and opposing integration with any neighbouring
Mission believes, in the light of what it witnessed in the
Territory, especially the mass demonstrations of support for one
movement, the Frente Polisario..., that its visit served as a
catalyst to bring into the open political forces and pressures which
had previously been largely submerged. It was all the more
significant to the Mission that this came as a surprise to the
Spanish authorities who, until then, had only been partly aware of
the profound political awakening of the population."
after the ICJ held its first session on the Western Sahara problem
in The Hague.
meanwhile, the Spanish Government made to an official advertisement
saying that "the Saharawi people should prepare for a transfer of
power as soon as possible". The Spanish foreign minister, Pedro
Cortina y Mauri, met El Wali Moustapha Sayed in Algiers agreeing to
hand power progressively to the Polisario in return for major
concessions to Spain over phosphates and fisheries.
Djemaa indicated a "Joint Committee of service" like "provisional
embryo of government".
1975, after important Spanish investments, the annual production
rose up to 2/3 million tons a year, making of the Western Sahara the
6th world phosphate producer.
the capacity of export of Western Sahara could have risen up to 10
million tons in the 1980s, which would have reached the United
States, second phosphate exporter of the world, and would not have
been far behind Morocco, which was the first phosphate exporter with
16,4 million tons in 1980. Thus the past export monopoly of Morocco
was in danger
October 16, 1975 the IJC emitted its clear
advisory opinion: on one side
the Western Sahara was not a 'no man's land' before the Spanish
occupation, there was evidence of a tie of allegiance between some,
though not all, of the tribal chiefs and the Kingdom of Morocco and
the Mauritanian entity. "Thus the Court has not found legal ties of
such a nature as might affect the application of General Assembly
resolution 1514 (XV) in the decolonization of Western Sahara and, in
particular, of the principle of self-determination through the free
and genuine expression of the will of the peoples of the Territory."
the Court finds that neither the internal nor the international acts
relied upon by Morocco indicate the existence at the relevant period
of either the existence or the international recognition of legal
ties of territorial sovereignty between Western Sahara and the
Moroccan State. Even taking account of the specific structure of
that State, they do not show that Morocco displayed any effective
and exclusive State activity in Western Sahara. They do, however,
provide indications that a legal tie of allegiance existed at the
relevant period between the Sultan and some, but only some, of the
nomadic peoples of the territory, through Tekna caids of the Noun
region, and they show that the Sultan displayed, and was recognized
by other States to possess, some authority or influence with respect
to those tribes. (…)
information before the Court discloses that, while there existed
among them many ties of a racial, linguistic, religious, cultural
and economic nature, the emirates and many of the tribes in the
(Mauritanian) entity were independent in relation to one another;
they had no common institutions or organs. The Mauritanian entity
therefore did not have the character of a personality or corporate
entity distinct from the several emirates or tribes which comprised
it. The Court concludes that at the time of colonization by Spain
there did not exist between the territory of Western Sahara and the
Mauritanian entity any tie of sovereignty or of allegiance of
tribes, or of simple inclusion in the same legal entity.
Nevertheless, the General Assembly does not appear to have so framed
Question II as to confine the question exclusively to those legal
ties which imply territorial sovereignty, which would be to
disregard the possible relevance of other legal ties to the
decolonization process. The Court considers that, in the relevant
period, the nomadic peoples of the
Chinguetti country possessed
rights, including some rights relating to the lands through which
they migrated. These rights constituted legal ties between Western
Sahara and the Mauritanian entity. They were ties which knew no
frontier between the territories and were vital to the very
maintenance of life in the region."
The opinion of
the Court was interpreted
differently by the different
parties, and each focused on what it
sees as supporting its claims.
While Morocco and Mauritania found
in the answers to the two questions,
a recognition that their claims are
legitimate and historically based,
Algeria and the Polisario focused on
the penultimate paragraph, according
to which court's decision was not an
obstacle to the application of
self-determination through the
ongoing Spanish referendum.
Hours later the delivering of the
advisory opinion, King Hassan II
claimed the opposite. The Hague, he
told his subjects, had vindicated
his irredentism: 350,000 Moroccan
civilians would march into the
Western Sahara as mujahedin to
“reclaim” it for the motherland.
Following Hassan’s announcement of
the Green March, Spain asked the UN
Security Council to stop Hassan.
The response, considered weak by the
Spanish government, forced Madrid to
pursue a bilateral dialogue with
Morocco. Visiting Hassan on a
pre-scheduled trip to discuss the
Arab-Israeli conflict, the Assistant
Secretary of State, Alfred Atherton,
reported on 22 October that Morocco
and Spain had reached a mutually
face-saving agreement to allow a
march. They would then to use the UN
to legitimate a Moroccan takeover
through a controlled plebiscite,
thereby allowing Spain to gracefully
The UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim visited Spain, Morocco, Mauritania and
Algeria, proposing a solution based on the “West Irian precedent.” (In
1961 Indonesia invaded Western New Guinea, now West Irian Jaya,
before the Dutch colony could achieve independence. The territory
was placed briefly under UN administration in 1962, and passed to
Indonesia in 1963. A controversial self-determination referendum
formalised Indonesian sovereignty in 1969) (http://mondediplo.com/2006/01/12asahara)
In the same days 12,000
Saharawis demonstrated in support of Polisario in
March, which took place in October/November 1975, was the most
important event in the Reign of Hassan II.
Spanish soldiers had already started to withdraw small isolated
outposts which the guerillas of the Polisario quickly took
the control of. Moroccan troops crossed the frontier in October 31
and clashed with Polisario guerrillas near Farsia, Hausa and
Echderia, all places in northeast. The Spanish armed forces did not
make any attempt to stop the clashes and the government of Madrid
did even not protest at Rabat against the violation of the border of
the Western Sahara by the Moroccan troops. The Spanish authorities
launched Operation Golondrina, a compulsory evacuation program for
November 5, 1975, King Hassan ordered 350.000 unarmed Moroccans, Koran in hand,
protected by the army, to march into the north of Western Sahara to
reassert the sovereignty of the Territory. On November 6, the
UN Security Council "deplored" this action and ordered Hassan to
withdraw the marchers.
of this Moroccan forces immediately began their occupation and an
agreement was signed between Morocco and Mauritania about their
zones of influence.
Algerian assistance to Polisario coincided with Moroccan military
invasion. At that time the Algerian army was spread along the
Algerian-Morrocan border. On his side, Lybian leader Kadhafi
announced that any aggression against the Algerian Revolution would
be regarded as an aggression against the Libyan Revolution. The
Algerian material support to the Saharawis was accompanied even in
these beginnings of the conflict by an engagement of certain
elements by the Algerian army at the sides by Polisario.
November 14, 1975, Spain, Morocco and Mauritania signed the
Madrid Agreement which marked the passage of power in
February to the temporary Morocco-Mauritanian administration.
Spain confirms its resolve, repeatedly stated in the United
Nations, to decolonize the Territory of Western Sahara by
terminating the responsibilities and powers which it possesses over
that Territory as administering Power."
In conformity with the afore-mentioned determination and in
accordance with the negotiations advocated by the United Nations
with the affected parties, Spain will proceed forthwith to institute
a temporary administration in the Territory, in which Morocco and
Mauritania will participate in collaboration with the Djemaa and to
which will be transferred all the responsibilities and powers
referred to in the preceding paragraph."
By the Madrid Agreements Morocco acquired the northern two-thirds of
the territory, while Mauritania acquired the southern third. The
agreement also included the proviso that Spain would retain shares
in the Bou-Craa mining enterprise. Mauritania acquiesced to the
agreements under the assumption, probably correct, that Morocco,
with its superior military power, would otherwise have absorbed the
entire territory. On November 24, 1975, four days after the death of
Franco, Spain withdrew. Soon after 67 of the 102 members of the
Djema'a signed the Proclamation of Guelta Zemmur, declaring the
assembly's dissolution and the creation of a pro-Polisario
Provisional Saharawi National Council made by 40 members.
But a transitional tripartite administration, headed by the Spanish
governor-general, was set-up, following the arrival in Laâyoune of a
Moroccan deputy governor, Ahmed Bensouda, and a Mauritanian deputy
governor, Abdellahi Ould Cheikh.
the north was occupied by Moroccan troops, therefore like other
centres. The resistance tried to oppose but tens of thousands
Saharawis began to leave the cities and the occupied zones.
On 10 December, 1975, the UN approved two resolutions in
contradiction between them, substantially not taking position.
Moroccan troops arrived in Laâyoune; Mauritanian army also attacked, helped by Moroccan and French
military advisers, and after 10 days of bombings took the control of
Tichla and La Guera at Cape Blanc, then of Lagouira. The area
became the 13th region of Mauritania, re-named Tiris
Polisario attacked the conveyor belt from Bou-Craa, forcing a halt
to phosphate mining for several years.
Algeria sent its troops deep into the territory of
Western Sahara, which led to the first and last
direct military confrontation between units of the
Moroccan armed forces and the Algerian national
army, in February 1976. A battle took
Amgala, nearly 300 km from the Algerian border.
Both sides took casualties and prisoners. Diplomatic
intervention from Saudi Arabia and Egypt prevented
the situation from escalating further.
Thousands of people fled to Algeria, in the region of Tindouf, to
escape the violence of the fighting.
February 18, 1976, the columns of refugees (mainly women, children
and old) moving on Oum Dreiga, Tifariti, Mahbès, Guelta Zemmour,
were victims of bombardments with napalm, phosphorus and cluster
bombs by Moroccan aviation. Many were reported dead near Guelta
Zemmour and Bir Lahlou.