Western Sahara

Mine Ban Policy

Last updated: 18 December 2019


The sovereignty of Western Sahara remains the subject of a dispute between the government of Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguía el Hamra and Río de Oro (Polisario). Polisario’s Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) is a member of the African Union, but is not universally recognized. It has no official representation in the United Nations (UN), which prevents formal accession to the Mine Ban Treaty. Polisario officials have, since 1999, stated that they would adhere to the Mine Ban Treaty if permitted to do so.

In June 2014, the SADR submitted a voluntary Article 7 report to the Mine Ban Treaty Secretariat at the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs in Geneva.[1] A July 2013 Presidential decree obligates the SADR and Polisario to abide by the Mine Ban Treaty.[2] Belgium and the ICBL welcomed the voluntary Article 7 report from Western Sahara at the Third Review Conference.[3] Previously, in November 2005, the Polisario committed to unilaterally ban antipersonnel mines through the NGO Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment. The Deed pledges the Polisario to a ban on use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines, and to cooperation on mine action.

Use, production, transfer, and stockpiling

Both the Polisario and the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces used mines extensively until the 1991 UN-monitored ceasefire. There have been no substantiated allegations of mine use since that time.[4]

The Polisario is not known to have produced or exported antipersonnel mines. Polisario officials claim they acquired antipersonnel mines in the past by lifting them from Moroccan minefields, especially those around the berms (defensive earthen walls).[5] Based on mines declared and previously destroyed, Polisario stocks have included antipersonnel mines of Belgian, Chinese, French, German, Israeli, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Soviet, United Kingdom, and Yugoslav manufacture.[6] As of June 2014, the SADR stated that it had a stockpile of 10,485 antipersonnel mines. The SADR reported that all mines in its remaining stockpile were captured from the Moroccan Army during the war.[7]

On 6 January 2019, the Polisario Front announced that it had destroyed 2,485 stockpiled antipersonnel mines, marking the completion of its destruction obligations under the Geneva Call Deed of Commitment.[8] Previously, the Polisario Front destroyed 2,500 antipersonnel mines on 22 May 2018 and 2,500 antipersonnel mines on 4 November 2017.[9]

From 2006 to 2015, the Polisario undertook five public destructions of stockpiled antipersonnel mines, pursuant to the Geneva Call Deed of Commitment.[10] On 30 March 2015, the Polisario destroyed 3,000 antipersonnel mines.[11]

[1] Sent to the Mine Ban Treaty Secretariat by Maima Said, Representative of Polisario to Switzerland and UN Office in Geneva, 20 June 2014. Copy provided to Landmine Monitor on same day.

[2] Voluntary Article 7 Report, SADR, 20 June 2014. Form A.

[3] ICBL provided a copy of the Voluntary Article 7 Report to Belgium, in its capacity as Coordinator of the Universalization Contact Group, at the recommendation of the Implementaion Support Unit (ISU). Belgium and the ICBL welcomed the voluntary submission in comments during their statements at the meeting. Monitor interview with Maj. Lode Dewaegheneir, Belgium Delegation, in Maputo, 25 June 2014. See also, ICBL, “Statement on Transparency,” First Review Conference, Maputo, 26 June 2014; and “SADR initiative welcomed by Maputo Conference on Mine Ban,” Sahara Press Service, 2 July 2014.

[4] Morocco and the Polisario have periodically traded accusations of new mine use, but both have denied it. See, Landmine Monitor Report 2009, p. 1,216.

[5] They may have acquired mines from other sources as well. Some of the stockpiled mines the Polisario has destroyed are not known to have been in Morocco’s arsenal, such as those of Belgian, Portuguese, and Yugoslav origin.

[6] “Observations made during field mission by Landmine Action UK,” provided by email from Landmine Action, 3 May 2006. See also, Landmine Monitor Report 2007, p. 1,095; and Landmine Monitor Report 2006, p. 1,196.

[7] Voluntary Article 7 Report, SADR, Form B, 20 June 2014. Its stockpile is reported to be comprised of 7,285 SB-33 (Italy); 1,327 VS-50 (Italy); 1,220 M-35 (Belgium); 417 M-966 (Portugal); 91 M-59 (French); 71 PRB-409 (Belgium); and 70 MAI-75 (Romania) anitpersonnel mines.

[9] Geneva Call, “Destruction of 2,500 Stockpiled Antipersonnel Mines in Western Sahara,” 30 May 2018; On 4 November at Tifariti in Western Sahara. The Polisario destroyed 2,300 VS-50 (Italy), 100 SB-33 (Italy), and 100 M-966 (Portugal) antipersonnel mines. Also destroyed were eight BPRB-M3 antivehicle mines used as an explosive booster for the demolition. International Campaign against the Wall of Moroccan Occupation in Western Sahara, “The Frente POLISARIO destroys 2500 mines,” 11 November 2017.

[10] From 2006–2011, the Polisario destroyed a combined total of 10,141: 3,316 in February 2006; 3,321 in February 2007; 2,000 in May 2008; and 1,504 in February 2011. See, Ilaria Ercolano, “UN-backed talks on future of Western Sahara to resume next week,” UN News Centre, 3 March 2011; Landmine Monitor Report 2008, p. 1,118; Landmine Monitor Report 2007, p. 1,095; and Landmine Monitor Report 2006, p. 1,196. The UN News Center report from March 2011 mistakenly noted that 1,506 antipersonnel mines had been destroyed. In an email to the Monitor, Geneva Call stated that 1,506 total mines were destroyed, including 2 TMA 4 antipersonnel mines used as donor charges, bringing the total number of antipersonnel mines destroyed in February 2011 to 1,504. Email from Katherine Kramer, Programme Director and Acting Coordinator for Landmines and Other Explosive Devices, Geneva Call, 22 August 2011. The mines included are: 111 M-35 (Belgium); six Type 58 (China); 6,728 VS-50 (Italy); 276 SB-33 (Italy); 76 M966 (Portugal); 20 M969 (Portugal); 49 MAI75 (Romania); 42 MI AP DV 59 (France); 303 MK1 [or Number 7] (UK); 109 PMD-6 (USSR); 1,490 PMD-6M (USSR); 12 PMN (USSR); 60 POMZ-2M (USSR); 29 PRB M404 (Belgium); 535 PROM-1 (Yugoslavia); 267 VS-33 (unknown type, presumably Italian); 22 “NEGRO” (unknown type, attributed to Israel); and six E-58 (unknown type, attributed to Germany). The Monitor had previously reported that the 2006 and 2007 destruction events also included 284 antivehicle mines. Geneva Call, which requested clarification from the Polisario, was told that the destroyed mines were MK1 antipersonnel mines, not K1 antivehicle mines. Polisario also said that mines recorded as FMP1 were actually Portuguese-made M969 mines.

[11] On 30 March 2015, Sahrawi Mine Action Coordination Office (SMACO) reported that they destroyed 1650 SB-33 (Italy); 1300 VS-50 (Italy); 50 M966 (Portugal), also destroying eight antivehicle mines as demolition charges in the process. Email from Samu Ami, Coordinator, SMACO, 21 January 2016.