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Country Reports
MOROCCO, Landmine Monitor Report 1999


Mine Ban Policy

Morocco has not signed the Mine Ban Treaty. Morocco attended the treaty preparatory conferences, the Oslo treaty negotiations, and the Ottawa treaty signing ceremony, but only as an observer in each case. It did not endorse the pro-treaty Brussels Declaration in June 1997. Morocco voted in favor of the 1996 UN General Assembly Resolution urging states to pursue vigorously an international agreement banning antipersonnel mines (passed 156-0, with 10 abstentions), but it was one of just eighteen countries which abstained from voting on the 1997 UNGA Resolution inviting all states to sign the Mine Ban Treaty; and one of nineteen countries which abstained from voting on the 1998 UNGA resolution welcoming new signatories to the treaty and urging its full implementation.

Morocco is not a state party to the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons. It is a member of the Conference on Disarmament, but has not been a noted supporter of efforts to negotiate a mine transfer ban in that forum.

Production, Transfer and Stockpiling

Morocco does not produce antipersonnel mines, and is not know to have exported mines. Morocco has imported numerous types of mines. According to an Italian research institute, during a three year period from 1976 to 1978, Morocco imported a total of $6.5 million worth of VS-50 antipersonnel and VS-1.6 antitank mines from the Italian company Valsella.[1] Morocco is also known to have mines of Spanish, Russian, French, and U.S. origin.[2] There is, at present, no concrete information on the number and types of mines Morocco retains in its stock.


Morocco has an estimated 200,000 landmines on its territory, the majority of which are concentrated in southern Morocco and Western Sahara.[3] (See also the special report on Western Sahara). Moroccan mine use has been concentrated in the disputed Western Sahara, of which Morocco currently controls over seventy-five percent. The battle for Western Sahara began in 1976 after the departure of Spanish colonial forces, Morocco laid claim to the territory but had to battle Mauritania and the Western Sahara independence movement Frente Polisario, the Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro. In 1979, Mauritania exited the conflict and Morocco soon annexed most of the former Mauritanian claim in the south of the Territory. During the 1980's, Morocco's strategy was to slowly consolidate its control over the territory. This strategy relied heavily on landmines. A UN brokered cease-fire and plan for a referendum on integration into Morocco or independence for the Territory came into effect in 1991. The planned referendum has experienced endless delays over the past eight years.

In 1982, the Royal Moroccan Army completed the first defensive wall, or berm, to secure the northwest corner of Western Sahara. The RMA completed constructed on subsequent defensive berms in 1984, 1985 and 1987. In all, six berms were built, four in the north of the territory and two further south. The current dividing line between Morocco and Polisario held territories is made up of part of berms four and five and all of berm six in the southern sector of the territory. The berms are made of earth piled two to three meters high and reinforced with security measures including extensive use of antitank and antipersonnel landmines.

Although not willing to give specifics about the mining of the berms, the RMA has told the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) that it mined "all approaches to their positions on the flanks and the rear in addition to minefields laid in front of their positions."[4] An unnamed RMA officer informed MINURSO, the UN mission to oversee the Western Sahara cease-fire and referendum process, that between one and two million mines were used to reinforce the berms.[5] Antitank minefields extend one hundred meters to the east of the berms towards the Polisario positions with antipersonnel minefields closer to the berm itself.[6] The UN assumes five to ten kilometers in front and to the rear of the berm to be dangerous and enforces a five kilometer buffer zone where no military or civilian personnel are allowed to the east of the berm.[7] Portions of the other berms that now stand within Moroccan held territory are suspected to still be mined by MINURSO personnel.[8]

In addition to the berm minefields, mines were used extensively by all three of the warring factions during the fifteen years of war. UN reports state that the RMA has lifted or reported to MINURSO most "useless" minefields and "sometimes basically marked" them.[9] There have been claims by Moroccan researchers that mines do not pose a threat in the Moroccan held territory because the RMA has all the necessary maps.[10] However, MINURSO Team Site personnel report that the RMA is not aware of all minefields and that accidents do take place.[11] In fact, old Polisario minefields in Moroccan held territory continue to cause accidents especially in the south of the Territory where the RMA Awserd commander reported eleven mine accidents among RMA troops in a seven month period in 1997.[12]

A list of mines found in all of the Western Sahara is contained in the Landmine Monitor special report on Western Sahara.

Mine Awareness

In addition to demining and UXO clearance, the SDU also worked in organizing the MINURSO Mine Action Cell (MAC) in Layounne and providing mine awareness to MINURSO personnel and visitors.[13] As part of the SDU mine awareness a booklet was produced with advice on avoiding danger, what to do in a mined area, what to do in case of an accident and illustrations and descriptions of mines found in Western Sahara.[14] UNHCR expressed a desire to establish a mine awareness program for returning refugees, but no updates are available.[15] Norwegian People’s Aid has also implemented a mine awareness program in Western Sahara (see Western Sahara for more detail). After the departure of the SDU, two Pakistani engineers assigned to MINURSO were tasked with the MAC duties until they were to be repatriated by the beginning of February.[16]

Mine Clearance

To date, there have been limited efforts to survey mark and clear mines and UXO in the Moroccan territory. The RMA is reported to have lifted some of its minefields to the west of the berm, but there are no details on the number of mines or area cleared.[17] MINURSO Team Site reports also note that RMA forces would conduct clearance in areas where mine accidents have taken place.[18] In March 1999, the Moroccan government agreed to a proposal from the MINURSO Force Commander to begin mine removal in the Moroccan held territory.[19] The agreement provides for “the exchange of information about all previously identified mines and unexploded ordnance in the areas west and north of the defensive sand-wall (berm) and their step-by-step destruction by the Royal Moroccan Army, as well as about any incidents involving mines and unexploded ordnance.”[20]

In late 1997 and early 1998, the United Nations approached Sweden for a demining capacity for the MINURSO mission and to address needs of UNHCR. UNHCR requests did not extend to the west of the berm as UNHCR had not yet received formal recognition from the Moroccan government and had conducted no reconnaissance in the area. The Swedish Demining Unit (SDU) arrived in Layounne in May 1998. The Unit was operational for only half of the five months it was in the territory, due to concerns by the Moroccan authorities about the import of essential equipment, which was resolved with signing of the Second Military Agreement (MA2) between MINURSO and the Moroccan authorities.[21] Only two of the six dogs brought by the Swedes became operational during deployment.

West of the berm, the SDU worked in and around MINURSO Team Sites in Smara, Dakhla, Mahbas, Tichla, Awsard, Guelta Zenmour, and Bir Gandouz.[22] The Unit also worked on the proposed Team Site area at Haouza. Of the 534 UXOs and two antitank mines the SDU destroyed in the field, ten UXOs were found and destroyed at two of the Team Sites where the Unit worked west of the berm.[23] The remainder of the items were found and destroyed in Polisario held territory. The Unit did not report any antipersonnel mines during its filed operations. Because of the short period of operation, The SDU did not complete work its work west of the berm related to the proposed Haouze Team Site and some other tasks to be identified by MINURSO. In its final report, the SDU noted that of the tasks it was assigned for the entire territory, there remains four months work for an EOD team and the need for a permanent EOD capacity for the life of the UN mission.

Western Sahara has been identified by the UN Mine Action Service as a priority for Level 1 Survey to identify contaminated areas and associated socio-economic impact to determine demining and victim assistance priorities and resource needs. While UNMAS notes that a survey is required, it adds that the current political situation creates difficulties in the execution of such a survey.[24]

Landmine Casualties

Very little information is available about the extent of mine accidents, number of victims and access to medical and rehabilitation services in the Moroccan held portion of Western Sahara. As already noted, eleven accidents were reported by the RMA Awserd Commander in a seven month period in 1997. The UN Team Sites record mine accidents they are aware of in their individual sectors. From the beginning of the mission in 1991 until July 1998, the Team Sites west of the berm recorded almost fifty mine or UXO incidents.[25] A notable accident happened in 1996 during the Paris-Dakar Rally. During stage five of the 1996 Rally, a vehicle hit an explosive device near to Smara killing the driver and injuring two others.[26] However, according to Moroccan authorities, it was not a mine that caused the accident.[27]


[1]Francesco Terreri. Produzione Commercio ed Uso Delle Mine Terrestri, il Ruolo dell'Italia. Forum on the Problems of Peace and War. Comune di Firenze. October 1996.

[2]U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers: The Global Problem with Uncleared Landmines, 1993, p. 126.

[3]U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers: The Global Landmine Crisis, 1998, p. A-2.

[4]MINURSO, "Western Sahara: Updated Mine Situation, February 1998.



[7]MINURSO, "Western Sahara: Updated Mine Situation,” February 1998; Discussions with MINURSO Team Site Members in Team Sites east of the berm. February 1999.

[8]"UXO's / Minefields SSC MAB G2 Briefing," MINURSO Mine Action Cell, Layounne.

[9]MINURSO, “Updated Mine Situation,” 1998.

[10]Association de soutien à un référendum libre et régulier au Sahara Occidental (ARSO). "There is no mine Problem in Morocco," Western Sahara Weekly News, Week 07 14.-20.02.1999. See www.arso.org.

[11]"UXO's / Minefields SSC MAB G2 Briefing," MINURSO Mine Action Cell, Layounne.

[12]MINURSO, “Updated Mine Situation,” 1998.

[13]Ibid, p. 4.

[14]MINURSO/SDU, "Mine Awareness Aide- Memoire Western Sahara." Mid-1998.

[15]United Nations, Country Report: Western Sahara, at http://www.un.org/Depts/Landmine/country/westerns.htm.

[16]United Nations Secretary General, " Report of the Secretary-General on the Situation Concerning Western Sahara." Paragraph 7. S/1999/88. United Nations: New York. January 28, 1999.

[17]MINURSO, “Updated Mine Situation,” 1998.

[18]"UXO's / Minefields SSC MAB G2 Briefing," MINURSO Mine Action Cell, Layounne.

[19]United Nations Secretary General, "Report of the Secretary-General on the Situation concerning Western Sahara." Paragraph 13. S/1999/307. United Nations: New York. March 22, 1999.


[21]"Report on SDU and MAC Activities May-Nov 1998," MINURSO Interoffice Memorandum. November 10, 1998,pp. 1-2.

[22]Ibid, p. 3.

[23]Ibid, Annex C.

[24]"UNMAS Discussion Paper on the Application of Survey and the Impact of the Ottawa Treaty," UNMAS: New York. Version 1.2/98. Annex C.

[25]MINURSO, “Updated Mine Situation,” 1998, Map.

[26]Paris-Dakar Rally. Stage Five report, January 3, 1996. See www.dakar.com.

[27]Ibid. Stage six report. January 4, 1996.