Western Sahara is Africa’s longest running territorial dispute.
In 1975, Morocco sent in 350-thousand of its citizens on the so-called ‘Green March’ to cement its annexing of the region.
The administrative power at the time, Spain, had decided unilaterally to hand Western Sahara over to Morocco and Mauritania.
The problem was — and still is — that Spain had no such legal right. Madrid had transferred Western Sahara’s sovereignty even though it was not theirs to give away.
It provoked a guerilla war of independence. The Polisario Front declared the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic on 27th February 1976, a day still celebrated every year. Now the republic is recognised by many western governments and is a full member of the African Union.
The war raged for 16 years. A UN brokered ceasefire brought the fighting to an end in 1991, but the dispute is far from over.
The north and west of Western Sahara are controlled by Morocco.
But areas around the eastern border with Mauritania and Algeria are territories controlled by the Polisario Front.
United Nations efforts to forge a solution have not borne fruit.
The Polisario Front and Morocco have been unable to find common ground on who among the population would have the right to vote in a referendum on self-government.
In 2007 the UN Security Council called both sides to face-to-face talks without preconditions and in good faith in an attempt to find a fair and lasting solution.
There have been four formal rounds of talks between the two since 2007.
But the formal encounters on the outskirts of New York produced nothing concrete.
Informal talks in 2009 proved equally fruitless despite mounting international pressure to find a solution because of fears that al-Qaeda was establishing a foothold there.
But both sides remain entrenched.
Rabat will only talk about autonomy for Western Sahara, claiming rights over sovereignty dating back centuries.
The Polisario Front wants to put a wider choice to the Sahrawis including the options of integration, autonomy or total independence.