The diverse developments in connection with the question of the Moroccan Sahara have demonstrated that it is all in reality a matter of litigation between Morocco and Algeria. With an eye to concretising its hegemonic ambitions in North Africa, Algeria stood against the completion of the territorial integrity of the Kingdom through sponsoring the Polisario ever since it saw the light of day ( nay, it is even its true begetter). Indeed, Algeria notably put at the disposal of the Polisario, financial resources and ammunitions as well as catered to the training of its members by allowing for its establishment upon parcels of its territory.

In view of this, it is Algeria, not the Polisario, which is considered as the principal party in the Sahara conflict. It remains to be thus the unique as well as effective party in the conflict, one which is capable enough to favour a definitive settlement of this dispute.

In this regards, if the position of Algeria on the question of the Sahara is crystal clear, what about that of Mauritania? How has the position of this border country evolved?

Following the recognition of Mauritania by Morocco in 1969, a normalisation of relations has taken place between the two countries, notably regarding the question of the Sahara.

Thus on September 17, 1974, Morocco decided, in concert with Mauritania, to bring the Sahara affair up before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) with a view to refuting the allegations of Madrid according to which the Sahara was found to be at the moment of its colonisation, a land without a master (terra nullius). More precisely, it had to respond to the following inquiries:

1. Was the Western Sahara (Saguia El Hamra and Rio de Oro) at the moment of colonisation by Spain a territory without a master, a «terra nullius»?

If the answer to the first question is negative,

2. What were the judicial ties that this territory had with the Kingdom of Morocco and the whole of Mauritania?

In the month of October of the same year, the ICJ rendered its advisory opinion wherein it recognised « the existence of judicial ties as well as ties of allegiance between Morocco and the Sahara. » Yet, in conformity with Muslim public law, which constitutes the fabric of the Sultan's prerogatives, the Commander of the Faithful, the ties of allegiance constitute the foundation behind the practice of sovereignty.

It was on this basis that the late King Hassan II decided to launch the Green March-which rallied together some 350 000 volunteers-for the express purpose of peacefully recuperating the Sahara. The fact was that the Green March materialised on November 14, 1975 in the tripartite Madrid Accord (recognised as it was by the United Nations) - between Spain, Morocco and Mauritania--, and the recuperation of "Sakia el Hamra" by Morocco. Besides, the Madrid Accord was ratified by the General Assembly of the United Nations, and later by the "jemâa" that represents the Sahrawi population.

The settlement of the Sahara dispute was thus settled in conformity with Chapter IV of the United Nations Charter relative to the peaceful settlement of disputes.

In 1976, the pseudo SADR was proclaimed with support from Algeria, but without having recognition from Mauritania.

It was within this context that the rapprochement of Morocco and Mauritania on the question of the Sahara came to lead to a number of aggressions against these two countries on the part of elements from the Polisario that operated from Algerian territory. Mauritania was notably attacked on December 1975 by the Polisario. The latter also mounted a raid in Zouerate. Several attempts at overthrowing President Ould Daddah from power were undertaken that finally led to the military coup of July 10, 1978, and to the establishment of a "comité de redressement national" (national readjustment committee), which was to become several months later the "Comité Militaire de Salut National" (military committee of national salvation) (CMSN), which temporarily had for President the Lieutenant-Colonel Mustapha Ould Mohamed Salek, and for Vice-President Ahmed Ould Bouceif (who became during the creation of CMSN a Prime Minister, and who would hold effective power). The fact was that this military coup was not without impact on the Mauritanian positionvis-à-vis the Sahara affair.

The attacks launched by the Polisario against Mauritania came to a stall as of the month of October in the year 1978. In parallel, some contacts were made between the Mauritanian officials and some leaders in the Polisario, contacts which Mauritania took to be no more than "a simple preliminary contacts." Up until then, it had never been a matter of calling into question the previous alliance.

Following the death of Ahmed Ould Bouceif in May 1979, Colonel Ould Haidallah took over as the Prime Minister. The coming of Haidallah to power (as Prime Minister in 1979 and later in 1980 as the Head of State) would exacerbate the commitment that Mauritania had started to show earlier vis-à-vis the Polisario. The few days that followed were marked by several meetings between Algerian and Mauritanian officials around the subject of the Sahara. Hence, during the Summit of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), presently the African Union (AU), which was held in Monrovia from July 18 through 22, 1979, Mauritania changed sides by voting for a resolution that recommends referendum in the Sahara. A few days later, on August 3, 1979, some negotiations were started afresh, in Algeria between the Polisario leaders and Mauritania.

On August 5, 1979, Mauritanian officials signed a peace agreement with the Polisario, which they called the "Accord d'Alger". In virtue of this agreement, Mauritania "has and will never have any territorial claims or other in the Western Sahara." Besides, it retrocedes the Oued Eddahab territory to the Polisario, calling into question, by the same gesture, the tripartite agreement signed in 1976. What transpires from all this is the fact that, under pressure from Algeria and Libya, and following several contacts with the members of the Polisario, Mauritania decided to definitively wash its hands, as it were, off of the Sahara to the benefit of the Polisario.

The signing of this agreement triggered off the process of recuperation of the province of Oued Eddahab, which was abandoned by Mauritania. Hence, on August 14, 1979, the representatives of the tribes of these regions pledged their allegiance to King Hassan II, thereby establishing the reintegration of the so-called region to the "mother-land". The oath of allegiance emanated from "the representatives of the tribes of Ouled Dlim, of Reguibat, Aït Lahcen, Skarna, Laroussiyne, Ezzaguiyne, Ouled Cheick Mâ El Aïnine, Ouled Tidrarine, Yggout, Aït Ba Amran, the relatives of Mohamed Salem, those of Barak Allah, Id Yaqob, Tandgha, El Fuikat and Imaguene."

Thus, the recuperation of Oued Eddahab took place on legitimate judicial and political grounds.

In 1984, Mauritania ended up with the recognition of the ghostly "SADR." The Mauritanian position then switched gears from positive neutrality to a negative one as regards the question of the Sahara; it moved in to strike an alliance with the Polisario-Algeria tandem.

However, with the coming to power on December 12, 1984, of Colonel Maaouiya Ould Taya, a new policy began to shape up on the part of Mauritania regarding the Sahara; though Mauritania does not withdraw its recognition of "SADR," it renews its ties with Morocco, and adopts positions that are more favourable to the Moroccan theses. In brief, it resumes its neutral policy, which is rather positive vis-à-vis the question of the Sahara. Besides, ever since the dawn of the 21st century, Morocco and Mauritania intensify their economic and political relations.

The recent change in the power structure in Mauritania has not changed this fact. In this respect, the Mauritanian President, Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdellahi, has called for a "consensual solution" to the Sahara conflict, laying stress upon the interest that his country has for following up on the recent developments relative to this question. In an interview given at the German T.V. station Deutsche Wellen, he stated that the question of the Sahara "is a matter of concern for us at the highest echelons, and we follow up on all of its developments." According to him, Mauritania's position consists of "watching over maintaining good relations with our neighbours of the North, Morocco and Algeria," and that on the grounds of this principle, his country "has constantly endorsed consensual solutions." He added that "it is this position which the Mauritanian delegation was charged with defending" during the negotiations on the Sahara, which took place in Manhasset (New York) under the aegis of the United Nations.

Meriem Aouad
(Trans. M.Karimi)