Western Sahara, a tract of desert the size of Britain, has been disputed since colonial power Spain left in 1975 and Morocco annexed it. Here are some details about the conflict.
WHAT IS THE DISPUTE?
- Following the Moroccan annexation, the Polisario Front waged a guerrilla war until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991. The truce included the promise of a referendum but Morocco has refused to allow a vote.
- The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic declared by Polisario in 1976 is now recognised by many governments and is a full member of the African Union.
- Morocco and Polisario held two rounds of U.N.-sponsored peace talks in 2007.
- The last meeting took place in August in Austria. There was no breakthrough but they said they hoped to meet again.
- Morocco claims centuries-old rights over the territory rich in phosphates, fisheries and possibly offshore oil. Rabat says autonomy is the most it will offer.
- Polisario has ample support in Africa, where many countries see the territory as the continent's last colony.
- In a proposal submitted to the United Nations in April 2007, Polisario said it was ready to negotiate with Morocco on ways to hold a referendum offering a choice between independence, integration into Morocco and self-governance.
- Rabat's vision of autonomy is opposed by Algeria, Polisario's key ally and site of its headquarters. Thousands of Sahrawi refugees live in camps in the Algerian desert.
- Jailed by Moroccan police in 1987 and, according to her and human rights groups, was tortured.
- She became symbol of the independence struggle when she led a street protest in June 2005 and was hit on the head by police wielding batons.
- She was jailed for that protest and went on a hunger strike to demand the status of political prisoner.
- Morocco granted her a passport in 2006 after the U.S. government intervened on her behalf. She has travelled to several countries to drum up support for the cause.
- She went on hunger strike on Nov. 14 after Morocco refused her entry to her home at Laayoune, Western Sahara's main city. She was travelling back from New York where she received an award for her work as head of CODESA, a human rights group in the territory.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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