Western Sahara is a place many people would have a great deal of trouble finding on many of the maps of the world, not because it is too small to see like Micronesia or some of the islands in the Pacific, but because depending on who makes the map Western Sahara might be a part of Morocco. There is a movement seeking to change that dichotomy of options, called the Polisario Front, and their leader since the dispute started, Mohamed Abdelaziz, died earlier this week. His exact age was not known but reports indicate he was in his 60s.
Abdelaziz was one of the central figures in the Western Sahara dispute as it’s people claim that it should really be called the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic which is supported by other nations, including Algeria where Mr. Abdelaziz was when he passed away. Morocco maintains that the area is a part of its southern “territories” after Spain left the area during the closing stages of the decolonization period of Africa from the 1950s to the 1970s. The year after Spain withdrew from the area, Abdelaziz founded the Polisario Front in 1976 and his death comes at a very inopportune time when the United Nations is trying to help the area hold a de facto independence referendum that Morocco would recognize.
The Polisario Front has been fighting with the Moroccan government since that time in the 1970s sometimes devolving into full warfare but there is still hope that the conflict will resolve peacefully even with Abdelaziz passing away. Part of what has made this conflict so tenuous is that the region of Western Sahara despite being small, is very rich with natural resources which is no small part of why Morocco wishes to retain control of the area. Civil War is probably not what the late leader would have wanted and to preserve his memory the UN should press on in it’s peacekeeping duties even if the Moroccan government gets hostile.
Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons/User Alvaro1984 18