has the dubious distinction of being the subject of probably the most forgotten-about post-colonial conflict in the world. Until 1975, the Spanish government considered Western Sahara a Spanish province, just as much an integral part of its territory as any of its provinces in the Iberian peninsula. However, at the beginning of the 70s, a burgeoning pro-independence movement, and increasing appetites of its Northern and Southern neighbours, Marocco and Mauritania, led to a UN visiting mission
in early 1975, which found that "there was an overwhelming consensus among Saharans within the Territory in favour of independence and opposing integration with any neighbouring country"
. This finding was given additional support by an opinion
by the International Court of Justice supporting the Sahrawis right to self-determination against the claims of neighbouring nations.
In response, Hassan II of Morocco
launched the "Green March
", a "civilian invasion" of Western Saharan territory, secretly doubled by a military invasion
of Western Sahara's North-East to pre-empt any Algerian intervention.
As General Franco slowly agonised, a Spanish government in disarray negotiated the cession of Western Sahara to Morocco and Mauritania in exchange for a continued Spanish interest in Western Sahara's bountiful phosphate mines
The Spanish army and administration (much to their own anger and frustration) were thus ordered to suddenly leave on February 26th 1976, suddenly abandoning their until then compatriots to the tender care of their neighbours. Morocco and Mauritania had however underestimated the resistance of the Sahrawis, who mostly continued to fight for their independence under the leadership of the Frente Polisario
, with Algerian support, until a UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991. In the meantime, Mauritania had abandoned its claim, but Morocco had taken control of nearly all the territory.
Under the conditions of the ceasefire, a self-determination referendum should have taken place shortly afterwards. However, Morocco has been procrastinating ever since
. In the meantime, 100,000 Sahrawi refugees, and (until 2005) Moroccan POWs
, have continued to languish in refugee camps in Tindouf
Since two weeks, a last, bizarre act in the Sahrawi struggle is being played out in Lanzarote (Spain). Upon her return to Western Sahara from the US, where she had received the Robert F. Kennedy's Peace Prize
, Sahrawi peace activist Amitanu Haidar
saw her (Moroccan) passport confiscated and herself expelled to Lanzarote. Inexplicably, the Spanish authorities first accepted her into Spanish territory despite her lack of proper documentation, and then refused her boarding on the return flight because
that same lack of documentation. Seeing herself effectively exiled from her homeland with the connivence of the Spanish government, Haidar has entered a hunger strike
, and refused to collaborate with the attempts of the Spanish government to make amends by offering her refugee status first, and then Spanish citizenship.