MINURSO - United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara
1. On 1 September 1991 the first one hundred United Nations Military Observers (UNMOs) were deployed by MINURSO to Western Sahara in order to monitor the formal ceasefire which went into effect on 6 September 1991. The two military parties to the conflict, the Royal Moroccan Army (RMA) and the Frente POLISARIO (FPOL), have since avoided any resumption of the armed conflict. No serious incident involving the exchange of weapons fire has occurred.
2. The purpose of MINURSO’s military activities is clear. In the absence of mutual confidence, it is MINURSO’s task to reassure each party that the other party is not changing the status quo, nor is building up and preparing for offensive operations. MINURSO monitors the activities of the two parties day and night all year round through a combination of ground and air patrols and observation posts as well as through visits and inspections of units and headquarters. Both parties can be assured that they and the Security Council will be informed if MINURSO observes any activity that could lead to breaches of the ceasefire.
3.MINURSO’s peacekeeping activities allow the two parties and the civilian population to focus on their daily activities without any imminent risk of a new armed conflict. At the political level, the ceasefire “buys time” for the ongoing search for a lasting settlement of the Western Sahara issue.
4. Military officers from 27 countries serve as UNMOs in nine team sites located far out in the vast desert and in the MINURSO Liaison Office in Tindouf, Algeria. Each day, UNMOs perform approximately 25 day and night ground and helicopter patrols throughout Western Sahara using the team sites as their patrol base. Each month the patrolling amounts to more than 100.000 km of desert driving, the conduct of 50 to 60 helicopter reconnaissance, around 700 conducted ground patrols by 4x4 vehicle, and the visit to and inspection of 500 military headquarters and 1700 military units of the two parties.
5. The nine team-sites report their observations to MINURSO Headquarters in Laayoune, where UNMOs serving as staff officers analyse their reports and issue instructions for future patrolling. The reporting from team sites also serves to keep UN Headquarters in New York informed on the situation. The main focus is on military activities close to the 1750 km long “Berm” that cuts across Western Sahara. But patrols also monitor the situation in cities far from the Berm as the MINURSO geographical area of responsibility (AOR) covers the whole of Western Sahara.
6. MINURSO military component maintains close contact at all levels of the two parties for exchange of information and to ensure cooperation in critical and tense situations as well as the building of mutual trust. The UNMOs act in a professional, firm and impartial manner to achieve the mandate entrusted to them by the UN Security Council.
7. In order to perform their tasks, it is important that MINURSO UNMOs have full freedom of movement (FOM) throughout Western Sahara. This is generally the situation when patrolling in the desert and urban areas, whereas UNMOs access to some units, headquarters and strong-points are often subject to restrictions by either party. This is a major obstacle as UNMOs should be able to verify that the status quo is respected and that parties adhere to the ceasefire provisions and military agreements. MINURSO is working with both parties to have all restrictions lifted. Until then, all FOM violations are reported to United Nations Headquarters.
8. The nine team sites need to accommodate 20 UNMOs each on average. As there is no access to external water supply, electricity etc., each team site must function with its own facilities like generators, kitchen, cooling, washing, toilets, communication, etc. Fuel, water, spare-parts, food etc. need to be transported to each team site with trucks, aircrafts and helicopters. The daily administrative, medical and logistic support requirements are therefore quite demanding as the team sites are located in remote locations, several hundred kilometres out in the desert.
9. Medical support is provided by a twenty- person strong Medical Unit , currently from Malaysia (MMU). The MMU is located at MINURSO Headquarters in Laayoune but there are always two medical teams rotating through the various team sites.
10. During patrolling, it happens that MINURSO officers meet people in distress. UNMOs will then provide emergency help on a purely humanitarian basis. In the past such help included medical evacuations, provision of emergency food and water as well as medical assistance from the medical teams.
Military Agreement No. 1
11. In December 1997 and January 1998 MINURSO developed and signed Military Agreement No. 1 (MA#1) with the Royal Moroccan Army (RMA) and the Frente POLISARIO respectively. MA#1 lays down the obligations of both sides to the conflict and outlines the operational framework of the peacekeeping efforts of MINURSO in the spirit of the Ceasefire Agreement. Military Agreements No. 1 only details activities of Military movement and have no provisions for Civilian movements.
12. MA#1 is the basic legal instrument for the UN monitoring of the ceasefire. Since its inception, it has proved to be an effective tool, though it suffers from some loopholes and occasional ambiguous language.
13. MA#1 divides the disputed territory of Western Sahara into five parts:
One 5 km wide Buffer Strip (BS) to the South and East side of the Berm;
Two 30 km wide Restricted Areas (RA) along the Berm. The Buffer Strip is included in the Restricted Area on the POLISARIO side and the Berm is included in the Restricted Area on the RMA side;
Two Areas with Limited Restrictions (ALR), which are the two remaining vast, stretches of land of Western Sahara on both sides respectively.
Each one of the five parts has specific restrictions as to the two parties’ military activities:
Buffer Strip: No entry of RMA and FPOL personnel and equipment, by ground or air. No firing of weapons in or over the area. This is prohibited at all times and any infraction counts as a violation of the cease-fire.
Restricted Areas: No firing of weapons and/or military training exercises, with the exception of physical training activities of unarmed personnel. No tactical reinforcements, no redeployment or movement of troops, headquarters/units, stores, equipment, ammunition, weapons, no entry of military aircrafts and no improvements of defence infrastructures. Some exceptions apply and some activities are allowed following prior notification to or approval by MINURSO (Note: these are restrictions in brief, for detailed information please read the MA#1 in full).
Areas with Limited Restrictions: All normal military activities can be carried out with the exception of the reinforcement of existing minefields, the laying of mines, the concentration of forces, the construction of new headquarters, barracks and ammunition storage facilities. MINURSO needs to be informed if the parties intend to conduct military exercises, including the firing of weapons of a calibre above 9 mm.
15. The MA#1 also provides some information on the Freedom of Movement (FOM) for UNMOs.