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Marxist Guerrillas Fighting For Western Sahara With AM-Plane Downed

December 9, 1988

RABAT, Morocco (AP) _ Marxist guerrillas called the Polisario Front have been fighting for 13 years for independence of the Western Sahara, near where two U.S. AID planes came under missile attack Thursday.

Morocco occupied most of the former Spanish Sahara in 1976 after

claiming it as Moroccan since early in the century.

Algeria immediately recognized the Polisario Front’s struggle for independence, and about 70 nations, mostly members of the non-aligned group, followed suit.

Mauritania occupied the southernmost third of the territory in 1976 but gave up its claim to the area in 1979 and Morocco annexed it.

The Polisario, with extensive help from Algeria and Libya, waged an aggressive guerrilla war.

With a heavily armed guerrilla force of 20,000 men, Polisario almost captured the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, in 1976, disrupted phosphate mining at the Sahara mining center of Bou Craa and attacked shipping off the Atlantic coast with heavily armed rubber boats.

Morocco deployed virtually its entire 120,000-member army and guerrilla activity nearly came to a halt.

But the operation was expensive in money and lives, and by 1986 Morocco had lost about 15,000 men - matched by losses on the Polisario side.

This year Algeria - Polisario’s main foreign backers - decided it had more to gain by reaching a direct understanding with Morocco, and the United Nations has been mediating peace talks between Morocco and the guerrillas.

Under a tentative agreement, about 2,000 U.N. peacekeepers would monitor a referendum that would result in Western Sahara’s independence or affiliation with Morocco.

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