United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara

20 September 1991 — to date 

The deployment of MINURSO stems from a dispute over the former Spanish Sahara, situated on the north-west African coast, between Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and the Atlantic Ocean.

When the Spanish left in the mid-1970s, Polisario, a popular nationalist movement, proclaimed an independent state, the Saharwi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). Polisario was backed by Algeria but Mauritania and Morocco both claimed the territory on the basis of historic rights. Moroccan troops moved in and occupied the north of the territory.

The Mauritanians invaded from the south but suffered major defeats at the hands of lightning-fast Polisario columns. In 1977, the Mauritanian government was ousted in a coup, and the new administration renounced claims to any part of the disputed territory. Morocco immediately annexed the former Mauritanian zone.

By 1985, Morocco, with 100,000 troops in the region, had constructed a 1,400km long, five-metre high wall from sand, rock and rubble to protect the territory's inhabited area. Polisario columns were unable to breach the wall, and the level of Moroccan casualties fell dramatically. 


By the beginning of the 1990s a ceasefire was in place. The territory's name had changed to Western Sahara, and in September 1991 MINURSO was deployed on both sides of the wall to monitor the ceasefire. MINURSO carries out its mandate through regular patrols and air reconnaissance.

Operation Details
Duration 20 September 1991 — to date 
Operation type UN led Peacekeeping Operations (Observer) 
Commitment 3 Personnel

Visit the Official MINURSO Site


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