March 27, 2024

In 1975 Moroccan and Mauritanian forces moved into the Spanish Sahara under the auspices of a deal arranged with Madrid as Franco lay dying. So started a new phase of conflict over a territory the size of France with a population the size of Lyon, rich in phosphates, fisheries and, perhaps, oil. Local independence movement Polisario turned its guns from the retreating Spain and onto new adversaries. By 1976 the territory, now known to the world as the Western Sahara, was a battlefield. Much of the Sahrawi population fled to refugee camps in southern Algeria. Those who remained were to be subsumed by waves of settlers and harsh repression. Three decades later, the Western Sahara has gone through sixteen years of war and almost as many of a ceasefire predicated on a referendum that never happened. The last Africa file in the UN’s decolonisation dossier remains open.

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