of Western Sahara
(also known as the Moroccan Wall
) is an approximately 2,700 km
-long defensive structure, mostly a sand wall (or "berm
"), running through Western Sahara
and the southeastern portion of Morocco
. It acts as a separation barrier between the Moroccan
-controlled areas and the Polisario
-controlled section of the territory that lies along its eastern and southern border.
The structure goes by a variety of names, with Moroccan Wall
and The Berm
being some of those often used. Moroccan authorities prefer the latter. Parties sympathetic to Western Sahara's independence and the Polisario
often use the Polisario's term, the "Wall of Shame
The fortifications lie in uninhabited or very sparsely inhabited territory. They consist of sand
walls or berms
about three meters in height, with bunkers, fences
throughout. Military bases, artillery posts and airfields dot the interior behind the wall at regular intervals, and radar
masts and other electronic surveillance equipment scan the areas in front of it.
The following is one observer's description of the Berm:
In all, six lines of berms have been constructed . The main ("external") line of fortifications extends for about 2,500 km. It runs east from Guerguerat on the coast in the extreme south of Western Sahara near the Mauritanian town of Nouadhibou, closely parallelling the Mauritanian border for about 200 km, before turning northwards beyond Techla. It then runs generally north-eastward, leaving Guelta Zemmur, Smara, and Hamza in Moroccan-held territory, before turning east and again closely following the Algerian border as it approaches Morocco. A section extends about 200 km into south-eastern Morocco
Significant lines of fortifications also lie deep within the Moroccan-controlled area . Their exact number and location are a source of some confusion for overseas commentaries .
All major settlements, the capital El Aaiún, and the phosphate mine at Bou Craa lie far on the Moroccan held side.
The fortifications were progressively built by Moroccan forces starting in 1981, and formally ending on 16 April 1987 . Its main function was to exclude the guerrilla fighters of the Polisario Front, who have sought Western Saharan independence since before Spain ended its colonial occupation in 1975, from the Moroccan-controlled part of the territory.
Effectively, after the completion of the wall, Morocco has controlled the bulk of Western Sahara
territory that lies to the north and west of it, calling these the kingdom's "Southern Provinces
". The Polisario-founded Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic
controls the mostly uninhabited "Free Zone
", which comprises all areas to the east of the barrier. Units from the United Nations
separate the two sides, and enforce cease-fire regulations on their troops.
Many of Western Sahara's native Sahrawi people live as refugees in camps in the Tindouf Province of Algeria, where the Polisario is based.
Western attention to the border wall, and to the Morocco annexation of the Western Sahara in general, has been minimal, apart from in Spain. Once a year, a small demonstration is held against the barrier by a few human rights activists, many of them Italian.
In Africa, the annexation of Western Sahara by Morocco has attracted somewhat more attention: Algeria supports the Polisario "in its long-running desert war to oppose Moroccan control of the disputed area; The Organization of African Unity/African Union and United Nations have proposed negotiated solutions.
Construction of the wall
The wall was built in six stages, and the area behind the wall was expanded from a small area near Morocco in the north, to most of the western and central part of the country gradually. The walls built were:
- 1st wall (Aug 1980-Jun 1982) surrounding the "useful triangle" of El-Aaiun, Smara and the phosphate mines at Bu Craa.
- 2nd wall (Dec 1983-Jan 1984)
- 3rd wall (Apr 1984-May 1984)
- 4th wall (Dec 1984-Jan 1985)
- 5th wall (May-Sep 1985)
- 6th wall (Feb-Apr 1987)
References and notes
- Map of Western Sahara, with the location of the wall marked Produced by the United Nations, showing the deployment of the MINURSO mission as of October 2006,. Map No. 3691 Rev. 53 United Nations, October 2006 (Colour), Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Cartographic Section
- Landmine Monitor, LM Report 2006, Morocco [http://www.icbl.org/lm/2006/morocco.html ]
- Landmine Monitor, LM Report 2006, Western Sahara [http://www.icbl.org/lm/2006/western_sahara.html ]
- Landmine Monitor, LM Report 2006, Algeria [http://www.icbl.org/lm/2006/algeria ]
- online slideshow created by the United Nations MINURSO mission. Includes an aerial photograph of the barrier on slide 11.
- Fly over the The Berm of Western Sahara in Google Earth Community