Western Sahara and East Timor are both examples of irresponsible Iberian decolonisation. The two were abandoned by their colonial masters, Spain and Portugal, who did not bother to discover the wishes of the people before leaving. This led to military annexation by rampaging neighbours: Indonesia in East Timor and Morocco and Mauritania in Western Sahara.
Independence movements waged guerrilla struggles in both, challenging what they saw as alien occupation. For decades, both Indonesia and Morocco – allies of the West – were considered too important to trouble with issues as trivial as self-determination. The fall of Suharto in Indonesia was followed by a referendum and the granting of independence to East Timor.
The United Nations (UN) supervised vote was not the organisation’s finest hour. Will the death in July of King Hassan II of Morocco give the UN another chance to sample opinions on independence, this time in the Western Sahara?