King Hassan II of Morocco is to discuss the future of the Spanish Sahara with Presidents Houari Boumedienne of Algeria and Mokhtar Ould Daddah of Mauritania at a tripartite summit meeting scheduled to take place in the next two weeks in Rabat.
King Hassan II of Morocco is to discuss the future of the Spanish Sahara with Presidents Houari Boumedienne of Algeria and Mokhtar Ould Daddah of Mauritania at a tripartite summit meeting scheduled to take place in the next two weeks in Rabat. The main item on the agenda: to find new ways of obliging Spain t "de-colonise" the desert region, wedged between the three countries and the northwest African coast.
Both Morocco and Mauritania say the desert belonged to them before Spain occupied it in 1934. And 1957, irregular Moroccan forces and nomad tribesmen attacked the coastal enclave of Ifni and raided Tarfaya, further south. The fighting continued into 1958, when a joint Franco-Spanish campaign restored order. But in the same year, the Farfaya zone of the Sahara was returned by Spain to the Moroccan government. The latter stressed that the gesture made no difference to its claim to all Spanish territory.
In an attempt to settle the dispute once and for all, the United Nations adopted a resolution in 1965 calling on Spain to liberate the area -- including Ifni. The resolution also required Spain to enter into negotiations with Morocco and Mauritania and arrange a referendum so that the people of the Spanish Sahara could decide their own future. Since then, the Moroccans say, Spain has done "virtually nothing" about the referendum. On the contrary they add, she has tightened her grip on the region and reinforced the military garrison.
In 1969 -- after renewed fighting at El-Aaiun, the tiny capital of the Spanish Sahara -- Spain handed over Ifni to Morocco. A year later, Morocco and Algeria agreed to co-ordinate their efforts to "liberate" other areas occupied by Spain.
These areas constitute a rich prize; huge oil and phosphate discoveries were made in the late 1960's -- with phosphate deposits at Bou Graa estimated at some 1,400 million tons, Spain plans to export these through El-Aauin Soon. Morocco feels this is a serious threat to its own phosphate industry, which it pays, accounts for 30 per cent of its total exports and 10 per cent of the annual budget.
Spain and Morocco also disagree on the population of the Spanish Sahara. Spain says the "Sahrawi" people, who constitute the more nettled population, number about 36,000. Morocco and Mauritania insist that the population is closer to 75,000, including the nomads - a vita factor in the referendum issue to be discussed at the Rabat summit meeting.
SYNOPSIS: The Spanish Sahara -- and a dispute between Spain, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania.
The Tarfaya zone of the Sahara was ceded By Spain to Morocco in nineteen-fifty-eight. But Morocco and Mauritania both say the whole of the Spanish-occupied desert is theirs. And a United Nations resolution in nineteen-sixty-five called on Spain to liberate the area -- and hold a referendum so the people could decide their own future. The vote has still to be taken.
Now, King Hassan of Morocco is to discuss the issue at a summit meeting with Algerian and Mauritanian leaders in Rabat. The king -- seen here abolishing the Morocco in 1971 -- will try to find new ways of obliging Spain to de-colonise the desert.
Ifni -- a tiny enclave north of Tarfaya. An attack by irregular Moroccan troops here in 1957 nearly caused a Spanish-Moroccan war.
Twelve years after the fighting, the Spanish Ambassador signed a treaty returning the enclave to Morocco in line with the United Nations resolution. But Morocco stressed that the gesture made no difference to its claim to ALL Spanish-occupied territory. The two countries also disagree on population figures for the referendum. Spain says it's thirty-six-thousand. Morocco says seventy-five-thousand because nomads should also vote.
President Boumedienne of Algeria will also be going to the summit talks in Rabat. Two years ago, he and King Hassan agreed to co-ordinates their efforts to liberate Spanish territories in North Africa. Like King Hassan and President Mokhtar Ould Daddah of Mauritania, of the vast riches of the Sahara - and the possible discoveries of the future.
It's impossible to estimate the Sahara's oil potential - or the wealth of natural gas, iron and other metals. But recent huge oil and phosphate discoveries indicate that its a rich prize... Phosphate deposits in the north-western regions of the Spanish Sahara alone amount to some one-thousand four-hundred million tons. Spain plans to start exporting it in the near future -- posing what Morocco feels is a serious threat to her own phosphate industry, a mainstay of her economy.
Meanwhile, as long as the political jockeying goes on, the future of the Spanish Sahara hangs in the balance.