Western Sahara, a Territory on the north-west coast of Africa bordered by Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria, was administered by Spain until 1976. Both Morocco and Mauritania affirmed their claim to the territory, a claim opposed by the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguia el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente POLISARIO).
The United Nations has been seeking a settlement in Western Sahara since the withdrawal of Spain in 1976 and the ensuing fighting between Morocco, which had "reintegrated" the Territory, and the Frente POLISARIO, supported by Algeria. (Mauritania renounced all claims to Western Sahara in 1979.) In 1979, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) also became active in seeking a peaceful solution of the conflict.
Establishment of MINURSO
In 1985, the United Nations Secretary-General, in cooperation with the OAU, initiated a mission of good offices leading to "the settlement proposals", which were accepted on 30 August 1988 by Morocco and the Frente POLISARIO. In 1990, the Security Council approved the Secretary-General's report S/21360 containing the full text of the settlement proposals and the outline of the Secretary-General's Plan for implementing them. On 29 April 1991, the Security Council, in its resolution 690 (1991), decided to establish the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) in accordance with the Secretary-General's report S/22464 which further detailed the implementation plan.
The Plan provided for a transitional period during which the Special Representative of the Secretary-General would have sole and exclusive responsibility over all matters relating to a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara would choose between independence and integration with Morocco.
The Special Representative would be assisted in his tasks by an integrated group of United Nations civilian, military and UN police personnel, to be known as MINURSO.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees would carry out a repatriation programme for eligible Western Saharan voters living outside the Territory.
The transitional period was to begin with the coming into effect of the ceasefire and end with the proclamation of the results of the referendum.
It was originally envisaged that the civilian component of MINURSO would range in size from about 800 to 1,000 personnel depending on the requirements of the various phases of the transitional period.
At full strength, the military component would consist of approximately 1,700 personnel, and the security unit of about 300 police officers.
According to the settlement plan, the referendum in Western Sahara should have taken place in January 1992. However, it was not possible to proceed in conformity with the original timetable.
Where is United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO)