Western Sahara. According to 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 Soto.
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 problem.
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.