UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) 1991 - 1994

Date from 01 January 1991
Date to 31 December 1994
Collection type Conflict
Scope note Strength: Total of 219 personnel. Consisting of 5 x 45 person contingents. Area of Operations (AO): Western Sahara, south-west Algeria and Morocco. Purpose: Western Sahara, a Territory on the north-west coast of Africa bordered by Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria, was administered by Spain until 1976. Since Spain's unilateral withdrawal from the Western Sahara territory in 1976, the Saharawi people (represented by the POLISARIO) have fiercely resisted annexation by neighbouring Morocco. A guerrilla war continued until 1991 when the UN brokered a cease-fire. Following this, in September 1991, MINURSO was established to: monitor the ceasefire; monitor the confinement of Moroccan and Frente POLISARIO troops to designated locations; ensure the release of all Western Saharan political prisoners or detainees; verify the reduction of Moroccan troops in the Territory; oversee the exchange of prisoners of war; implement the repatriation programme (UNHCR); identify and register qualified voters; and to organize and ensure a free and fair referendum and proclaim the results. Australia provided the mission's 45-strong Force Communications Unit until the end of 1994 when the Australian Government withdrew the Unit. Comments: When Spain withdrew from the Western Sahara territory in 1976, both Morocco and Mauritania affirmed their claim to the territory, a claim opposed and fiercely resisted by the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguia el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente POLISARIO) - supported by Algeria. Morocco annexed the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara (formerly Spanish Sahara) in 1976 and claimed the rest of the territory in 1979, following Mauritania's withdrawal. A guerrilla war with the Polisario Front contesting Morocco's sovereignty ended in a 1991 UN-brokered cease-fire. Since then a UN-organized referendum on the territory's final status has been repeatedly postponed. The UN since 2007 has sponsored intermittent talks between representatives of the Government of Morocco and the Polisario Front to negotiate the status of Western Sahara. Morocco has put forward an autonomy proposal for the territory, which would allow for some local administration while maintaining Moroccan sovereignty. The Polisario, with Algeria's support, demands a popular referendum that includes the option of independence. The natural hazards synonymous with the Sahara have been compounded by the man-made hazards of an area that has been a battlefield for more than 80 years. The mine hazards and the exceptionally harsh conditions of the Sahara were a part of every day living on MINURSO. The Australian Contingent primarily provided combat net radio, messaging and higher command link communications from Force HQ in Laâyoune to each sector HQ and to teamsite level as required. Additionally the Contingent performed driving tasks including tanker and flat-bed fuel (44 gal drums) and propane (canister) resupply to teamsites widely dispersed on both sides of the berm - an approx 2,700 km-long defensive wall which stretches along the entire length of the disputed territory through Western Sahara and the southeastern portion of Morocco and separates the Moroccan-administered portion (west) from the area that is controlled by the Frente Polisario (east). Killed: 1 - On 21 June 1993, Army Doctor Major Susan Felsche, Royal Australian Army Medical Corps, was killed in a Medical Unit aircraft crash. She was the first Australian female soldier to die in a multinational peacekeeping operation.