Terrorist Organization Profile:
Polisario Front

Frente Popular Para La Liberacion De Saguia El Hamra Y Rio De Oro
Algeria, Mauritania, Western Sahara
May 10, 1973
Group is inactive
Libya (formerly); Algeria (formerly)
The Polisario Front is committed to the liberation of the Saharawi people and to the independence of their territory. This land, the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara, is now occupied by Morocco. Activities of the Polisario Front began when the Spanish still held the region, and consisted of hit-and-run attacks on Spanish settlements and military installations. During this time, the group's fighters were based in neighboring Mauritania. Spain abandoned its colonial ambitions in the territory in 1975 and divided the area between Morocco and Mauritania, driving Polisario's base into neighboring Algeria. From refugee camps in Algeria, the Polisario Front declared a government-in-exile of the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which has been diplomatically recognized by over 60 nations. Polisario attacked both Moroccan and Mauritanian targets during this period including military installations, iron-ore mining operations, and the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott. Mauritania's position in the conflict was short-lived, however, and it signed a peace treaty with the Polisario Front in 1979. This was quickly made obsolete when Morocco annexed the formerly Mauritanian portion of the Western Sahara.

From 1979 on, Polisario's attacks were focused solely on the Moroccan military. At the height of its strength in the 1980's the Polisario Front consisted of approximately 15,000 troops. Financially supported by Libya and Algeria, the Polisario was well-trained, well-armed, and mobile. Attacks were conducted on the Moroccan military both in Western Sahara and inside Morocco, resulting in large-scale losses of Moroccan armor. Both sides grew weary of fighting by the end of the 1980's, while Algeria and Libya had decreased levels of support for the group due to internal economic issues. Finally, Morocco and the Polisario Front signed a UN-sponsored peace treaty in 1991, calling for an eventual referendum that would allow the Saharawis to choose between independence or integration into Morocco. However, this treaty would eventually falter, and tensions remained high between the two sides for many years.

In 2003, after intense negotiations, Polisario agreed to a new peace plan as put forth by former US Secretary of State James Baker. The plan called for a five-year transitional period to be followed by a state-wide referendum on independence or integration with Morrocco. During this time Morrocco would be responsible for Western Sahara's security and defense, and there would be autonomous local administration under an elected Western Sahara Authority (WSA). The Baker Plan was not accepted by Morocco, though Polisario has not attacked Moroccan interests since the early 1990s.

Since Polisario's acceptance of the Baker Plan, the organization has made important strides in ending conflict in Western Sahara. In August 2005, the group released hundreds of Moroccan POWs, some of whom had been held for over 20 years. But despite widespread optimism, several sticking points remain between the two sides, including issues over Sahrawi refugees in Algeria, and Morocco's accusation that Polisario is aiding illegal immigration into Morocco. Though Polisario is at present inactive, Morocco still refuses to negotiate terms of a possible referendum or independence for the Saharawi people. This may have the effect of frustrating Polisario and lead to a reactivation of Polisario in the next several years.

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