CountryAAH, the total population in Western Sahara is 597,350 people in 2020. James Baker, who has been UN Secretary
General Kofi Annan's personal envoy in Western Sahara since 1997,
resigned June 13. One of the reasons for Baker's dismissal
was judged to be that he was unhappy that Annan did not want
to point out Morocco as responsible for the deadlock in the
negotiations with the independence movement Polisario. For
another envoy, Annan appointed Peruvian diplomat Alvaro de
During the year, Polisario released a total of 200
Moroccan prisoners of war captured by the guerrillas between
1975 and 1991. Another 412 Moroccans were still estimated to
be trapped in Polisario's camp in Algeria.
In 1996, 170,000 people from Western Sahara lived in
refugee camps in the Tindouf region - a desert area in
Algeria, near Western Sahara. Here POLISARIO has organized
schools and other services.
On September 16, 1997, Morocco and POLISARIO agreed to
revive the Western Sahara peace plan as well as exchange
prisoners of war and release political prisoners. The date
of the referendum was now set for December 7, 1998.
Two ministers who had been key figures, Defense Minister
Brahim Gali and Foreign Minister Bachir Mustafá Sayed (who
had led diplomacy for the previous fifteen years) were
replaced in January 1998. This was considered a necessity
for the government to have free hands to negotiate the last
phase of the referendum.
President Abdelaziz confirmed that in the event of
POLISARIO winning the referendum, Moroccan nationals could
remain in the area unless they had been associated with the
"occupation and annexation".
The UN peace plan, which both Morocco and POLISARIO have
committed to respect, presupposes that if Morocco wins the
referendum, the UN must disarm the soldiers from Western
Sahara, but otherwise the UN must monitor the withdrawal of
Moroccan troops and administration from Western Sahara. The
repatriation of the 200,000 people who have lived in exile
outside Western Sahara for 22 years - especially in the area
of the Algerian city of Tindouf - remains an unsolved
The death of Moroccan King Hassan II in July 1999 and his
son, Mohammed IV's takeover of the throne, resulted in
significant political changes in Morocco. The King's first
actions pointed toward political opening, including the
release of political prisoners and the will for a political
settlement in Western Sahara. Polisario welcomed the king's
first actions and especially his decision to conduct a
Western Sahara referendum on the country's future. In
November, Mohammed IV announced that he would introduce some
form of self-government in the occupied territories.
Polisario's 10th congress, which took place in Tinduf in
August 1999, re-elected Abdelaziz as president of RASD. In
his accession speech, Abdelaziz acknowledged "shortcomings
in office and unforgivable practice" in Western Sahara's
administration, but at the same time asserted that there was
no internal disagreement over the desire for independence.
At the same time, the president expressed his hope that
Morocco's new king would respect the agreements with the UN.
Under the threat of a postponement of the referendum,
Polisario expressed his support for Kofi Annan's special
envoy, North American James Baker, who was to negotiate the
fulfillment of the agreements reached. In May 2000,
representatives of the Polisario met with representatives of
the Moroccan government in London, but the negotiations
lasted only a few hours. However, negotiations were resumed
in June in London following international pressure. The
quarrels over who should be entitled to vote in the future
referendum on the future of Western Sahara have now lasted
for over 10 years.
A new informal three-day meeting took place at James
Baker's ranch in Wyoming in August 2001. Polisario, Algeria
and Mauritania attended, while Morocco did not attend.