The latest round of U.N.-sponsored talks to resolve the conflict over Western Sahara foundered recently. In an email interview, Yahia H. Zoubir, a professor of international relations and international management and the director of research in geopolitics at Euromed Management in Marseilles, France, discussed the Western Sahara talks.
WPR: What are the major issues involved in the Western Sahara conflict?
Yahia H. Zoubir: There are two major issues. First is the illegal occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco, which invaded the territory in 1975, despite an opinion issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The ICJ had refuted Morocco's claim of sovereignty over the former Spanish Sahara, but Morocco invaded anyway. Second is the holding of a referendum on self-determination for the Sahrawi people, as stipulated in all U.N. resolutions on the matter. Spain, as the former colonial power, failed to organize the referendum before it withdrew from the territory in 1976. Following Spain's withdrawal, war broke out inside the territory between Sahrawi guerrilla forces and the better-equipped Moroccan troops. Not until September 1991 was a ceasefire brokered by the United Nations, which also proposed a peace plan accepted by the two sides. The plan was supposed to prepare for a referendum under the supervision of MINURSO, the U.N. mission for the referendum in Western Sahara, but the referendum was never held.