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United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara

MINURSO is the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara. The name is a French acronym for "Mission des Nations unies pour l'Organisation d'un Référendum au Sahara Occidental" - United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara.

Purpose of the mission

MINURSO was established in 1991, as part of the Settlement Plan, which had paved way for a cease-fire in the conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front (as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic), over the contested territory of Western Sahara (formerly Spanish Sahara).

MINURSO's mission was to monitor the cease-fire and to organize and conduct a referendum, in accordance with the Settlement Plan, which would enable the Sahrawis of Western Sahara to choose between integration with Morocco and independence. This was intended to constitute the Sahrawi people's exercise of self-determination, and thus complete Western Sahara's still-unfinished process of decolonization (Western Sahara is the last major territory remaining on the UN's list of non-decolonized territories.)

To this end, MINURSO has been given the following mandates:

  • Monitor the ceasefire
  • Verify the reduction of Moroccan troops in the territory
  • Monitor the confinement of Moroccan and Polisario troops to designated locations
  • Take steps with the parties to ensure the release of all Western Saharan political prisoners or detainees
  • Oversee the exchange of prisoners of war (through the International Committee of the Red Cross)
  • Implement the repatriation programme (through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)
  • Identify and register qualified voters
  • Organize and ensure a free and fair referendum and proclaim the results


The independence referendum was originally scheduled for 1992, but conflicts over voter eligibility prevented it from being held. Both sides blamed each other for stalling the process. In 1997, the Houston Agreement was supposed to restart the process, but again failed. In 2003, the Baker Plan was launched to replace the Settlement Plan, but while accepted by the Polisario and unanimously endorsed by the United Nations Security Council, it was rejected by Morocco. Presently, there is no plan for holding the referendum, and the viability of the cease-fire is coming into question.


The MINURSO mandate has been repeatedly extended since 1991.

In October 2006 the Security Council passed a resolution extending the mandate of MINURSO to April 2007. A provision decrying human rights abuses by Morocco in Western Sahara had the backing of 14 members of the Security Council, but was deleted due to French objections..

The April 2007 the resolution extending the mandate to October took "note of the Moroccan proposal presented on 11 April 2007 to the Secretary-General and welcoming serious and credible Moroccan efforts to move the process forward towards resolution" and also took "note of the Polisario Front proposal presented on 10 April 2007 to the Secretary-General". The representative of South Africa took exception to the way that one proposal was held more worthy than the other as well as the lack of participation outside the Group of Friends in the drafting of the resolution.

The October 2007 resolution extending the mandate to April 2008 contained the same preferential wording in its in its description of the two proposals. The representative of South Africa commented on this again, and regretted the fact that the resolution "considered" rather than "welcomed" the report on the situation by the Secretary-General -- "presumably because [it] dared to raise the issue of the human rights violations against the Saharawi people", and quoted the warning in the report about there being no mandate to address the issue of human rights.

The April 2008 resolution extended the mandate for a full year to April 2009. Before the vote, the representative of Costa Rica expressed his "concern at the manner in which the draft resolution on which we are about to vote was negotiated" and a "difficulty in understanding the absolute refusal to include" references to human rights.

MINURSO's budget is roughly 40 million dollars per year.


There are two sets of teams, those in the Moroccan-controlled portion west of the berm and those in the Sahrawi-controlled region and refugee camps to the east and in Algeria. The camps west of the berm are located in Mahbas, Smara, Umm Dreiga, Auserd, and Ad-Dakhla. The eastern camps include Bir Lehlou, Tifariti, Mehaires, Mijek, and Agwanit. There is also a liaison office in Tindouf which serves as a communication channel with Polisario leadership.

Current composition

As of October 31, 2007, MINURSO had a total of 242 uniformed personnel, including 48 troops, 6 police officers and 188 military observers, supported by 95 international civilian personnel, 145 local civilian staff and 23 UN Volunteers. Major troop contributors are Malaysia, Russia and Egypt. Armed contingents patrol the no man's land that borders the Moroccan Wall, to safeguard the cease-fire.

  • Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Chief of Mission: Julian Harston ()
  • Force Commander: Major General Zhao Jingmin ()
  • Other personnel:

State Military Mil. observers Police Total
0 1 0 1
0 2 0 2
0 8 0 8
0 18 0 18
0 2 0 2
1 1 0 2
0 13 4 17
0 5 2 7
0 24 0 24
7 10 0 17
0 1 0 1
0 5 0 5
0 12 0 12
0 7 0 7
0 4 0 4
0 5 0 5
0 9 0 9
0 14 0 14
0 3 0 3
0 8 0 8
0 6 0 6
0 1 0 1
0 26 0 26
0 2 0 2
* 20 0 0 20
0 8 0 8
28 195 6 229

* On May 7, 2006, South Korea announced an end to their participation in MINURSO

There have been a total of 15 fatalities in MINURSO: five military personnel, a police officer, a military observer, three international civilian personnel, and five local civilian personnel.


In 1995, MINURSO's inability or unwillingness to act against perceived Moroccan manipulation of the process, and abuse of Sahrawi civilians, caused its former deputy chairman Frank Ruddy to deliver a strong attack on the organization ; he has since kept up his critique of what he argues is an economically costly and politically corrupt process

See also


External links

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