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Western Sahara has been on the UN list of non-self-governing territories since 1963. Formerly a Spanish colony, the territory was annexed by Morocco in 1975. Since then, Western Sahara has continued to be occupied by Morocco owing to a dispute between Morocco and Western Sahara’s indigenous Saharawi people represented by the Polisario Front.1 Following 16 years of confrontation, the UN negotiated a ceasefire in 1991, which was accepted by both sides.2

The Polisario Front has active armed forces and a surplus of weaponry, which is largely due to the support of certain countries, mainly Algeria and Libya. Morocco’s heavy military presence in Western Sahara, combined with smuggling activities and small arms and light weapons trafficking, also make the territory vulnerable to further armed violence.3 In 2020, the conflict escalated, and armed attacks by the Polisario Front against Moroccan forces in Western Sahara and southern Morocco restarted in response to Moroccan armed forces crossing the UN buffer zone.4


1 “Military occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco,” Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts Project (RULAC), Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, updated May 19, 2023,

2 “Western Sahara Profile,” BBC News, September 7, 2021,

3 Francesco Strazzari and Francesca Zampagni, Illicit Firearms Circulation and the Politics of Upheaval in North Africa (Brussels: Flemish Peace Institute, 2017),

4 Hugh Lovatt and Jacob Mundy, “Free to Choose: A New Plan for Peace in Western Sahara,” European Council on Foreign Relations, May 26, 2021,

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Map of Western Sahara

Further information

Accidental explosions

Since the Small Arms Survey began collecting data in 1979, no accidental explosions have been reported in Western Sahara.

Source: “Unplanned Explosions at Munitions Sites (UEMS) Database,” Small Arms Survey, updated December 15, 2021,

Cases of diversion

Insufficient information on cases of diversion in Western Sahara.


Insufficient information on the disposal of ammunition in Western Sahara.


To further enhance safe and secure ammunition management, the following needs have been identified for Western Sahara:

  • Mediation of the conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front through the UN Security Council and the European Union; and
  • Establishment of a legal framework on illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.

Source: Lovatt and Mundy, “Free to Choose.”

Published Date: Monday 21 of August 2023