Monday, Jan. 10, 2011

Western Sahara

The former Spanish colony is a sparsely populated territory (fewer than 500,000 people live here) wedged between Mauritania and Morocco. By 1979, Morocco had annexed the entirety of Western Sahara, despite the protestations of a long-standing independence movement, headed by a group known as the Polisario Front. In the decades since, a significant Moroccan military presence has kept Polisario's columns of guerrillas at bay; the secessionists control only a sliver of largely uninhabited land in Western Sahara's east. A U.N.-brokered cease-fire in 1991 set the table for a referendum in the country, but the vote has yet to take place, with Morocco adamant that it maintains its sovereignty over the territory. Still, many ethnic Sahrawis live in poor conditions under Moroccan watch. In November 2010, riots at one camp of some 12,000 displaced Sahrawis broke out; reports allege that at least one person was killed by the subsequent Moroccan crackdown.