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    An Indian paramilitary soldier stands guard during a curfew in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Friday, June 9, 2017

    No Man's Land: A Guide to Those Territories Claimed by More Than One Nation

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    President Trump indicated last week the United States now accepted Israel's ownership of the Golan Heights, which it has occupied since 1967 after defeating Syria in a war. Sputnik looks at other territories around the world which have been disputed for years.

    Syria reacted angrily after Donald Trump said the US now accepted Israel's decision in 1981 to annex the Golan Heights, a strip of strategically valuable land between the two countries.

    On Saturday hundreds of Druze Arabs who live in the Golan Heights carried Syrian flags and pictures of President Bashar al-Assad during a big demonstration against Israeli rule.

    The Israeli Defence Force is now bracing itself for violence in the territory after Trump's inflammatory comments.

    Sputnik decided to explore the history of other disputed territories.

    Western Sahara

    In November 1975 Spain's long-time dictator Francisco Franco, 82, fell into a coma after years of heart problems.

    As Franco lay on his deathbed the King of Morocco, Hassan II, sought to capitalise on the weakness of the Spanish state by claiming a huge piece of desert on Morocco’s southern boundary.

    Around 350,000 unarmed Moroccans crossed the frontier and headed south on what became known as the Green March. Spanish troops decided against shooting on them and even cleared some landmines in their path.

    ​Spanish Sahara had been owned by Madrid since 1884 but had long been claimed by Morocco, despite the presence of thousands of Sahrawi Arabs who wanted to be independent.

    In 1971 they set up the Polisario Front, a Spanish acronym which sought the liberation of the Spanish territories of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro.

    The Moroccans occupied the northern half of the territory — Saguia el Hamra — while neighbouring Mauritania sent troops in to occupy the southern part, Rio de Oro.

    The Polisario Front set up the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in February 1976 and began a guerrilla war against both occupiers.

    In 1979 Mauritania pulled its troops out of Western Sahara and abandoned its claim, but Morocco simply stepped into the vacuum and marched in.

    A ceasefire was declared between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front in 1991 and the Moroccans gave up claims to the desert east of a berm they built across the Sahara.

    The future of the territory was supposed to be decided by a referendum but the Moroccans have introduced tens of thousands of settlers, whose eligibility to vote is rejected by the Polisario Front.

    West Papua

    West Papua had been part of the Dutch East Indies since 1824 and when, in 1949, the Netherlands formally accepted Indonesian independence it remained in their hands, as Dutch New Guinea.

    But it was an unwanted colony and in 1963 they agreed for Indonesia to take it off their hands.

    Indonesia conducted a referendum six years later in which it pretended to ask the mainly Christian or animist inhabitants whether they wanted to become part of the world's biggest Muslim state.

    In August 2017 Connor Woodman, a researcher with the Politics of Papua Project at the University of Warwick, explained why the 1969 referendum was so flawed.

    ​"It was called the Act of Free Choice, although West Papuans call it the Act of No Choice. The Indonesian military handpicked 1,026 West Papuans who were bribed, cajoled and threatened into voting unanimously for what was Dutch New Guinea to join Indonesia," Mr. Woodman told Sputnik.

    Thousands of Indonesian settlers began colonizing West Papua in the 1970s and 1980s and the indigenous people are now believed to make up only 50 percent of the population.

    In January 2019 a petition signed by more than 1.8 million people was handed to the UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

    It called on the UN to defend human rights in West Papua and ensure the people get a new referendum on self-determination.


    Crimea — a peninsula in the Black Sea — became Russian in 1783, after Catherine The Great's armies defeated the Ottoman Turks.

    Over the next 100 years hundreds of thousands of Russian settlers moved there, gradually outnumbering the indigenous Tartars.

    The Crimean War between 1853 and 1856 devastated the peninsula but the losses suffered by the Russian army and navy meant it was securely embedded in the national psyche as being Russian land.

    A view on Yalta from Mount Ai-Petri in Crimea.
    © Sputnik / Sergei Malgavko
    A view on Yalta from Mount Ai-Petri in Crimea.

    ​When the Russian Empire fell and was eventually replaced by the Soviet Union, Crimea was made an autonomous republic within the Russian federation.

    But in 1945 it was downgraded and in 1954 was transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic on the whim of Nikita Khruschev.

    The Crimean head at the time was sacked for opposing the move. Most Crimeans never accepted the transfer, which many saw as a "virtual deportation from Russia to Ukraine", and in early 1991 over 80 percent of them voted in a referendum to restore Crimea's autonomy. The Ukrainian Supreme Soviet acquiesced.

    After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the Crimeans began a relentless campaign to reunite with Russia. In May 1992, the Crimean parliament adopted the republic's constitution, which declared Crimea's right to self-determination.

    Kiev threatened to open criminal proceeding against the Crimean leaders and hinted at military action to stamp out "separatism".

    In February 2014, after Ukraine's democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown by anti-Russian nationalists, clashes broke out in Crimea and south-eastern Ukraine as ethnic Russians sought to breakaway from Kiev's control.

    ​Crimea re-united with Russia following a referendum in March 2014. During the plebiscite, 96.77 percent of Crimeans voted to integrate with Russia; the turnout was 83.1 percent.

    A new bridge, over the Kerch Strait, linking Crimea with the Russian mainland is due to be opened in December but the US and its NATO allies have refused to accept the Crimeans' right of self-determination. 

    Guayana Esequiba

    Latin America has seen many wars over land disputes over the years.

    Bolivia still rankles at the loss of its coastline after defeat by Chile in 1884 and the 1864-70 War of the Triple Alliance in was so devastating that Paraguay's pre-war population of 525,000 was reduced to 221,000, of whom only 28,000 were men.

    Venezuela and Guyana have never gone to war but they still have an unresolved land dispute.

    ​In fact Venezuela lays claim to the western two-thirds of Guyana, everything west of the Esequibo river, a region it calls Guayana Esequiba.

    The dispute goes back to the 18th century and competing colonial claims by Spain, Britain and the Netherlands.

    When Guyana became independent in 1966 a treaty was signed by the UK, Venezuela and the Guyanese stipulating that all parties "would agree to find a practical, peaceful and satisfactory solution to the dispute". 

    But Guyana's Prime Minister, Forbes Burnham, was so worried about it that he happily agreed to maverick US preacher Jim Jones' request in the mid-1970s to create a compound in the jungle deep in Guayana Essequiba.

    Burnham thought a Venezuelan invasion might trigger a bigger international reaction if thousands of Americans were affected.

    The invasion never came but the Jonestown Massacre in 1978 did put the region in the spotlight.

    The dispute continues to rumble on but neither Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez or his successor, Nicolas Maduro, have shown any inclination to stir up trouble with Guyana.

    West Bank

    In 1967 Israel launched the Six Day War, taking on and defeating its neighbours Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq.

    The Israelis seized the Golan Heights from Syria but they also took the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt and the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, from Jordan.

    The Sinai was given back to Egypt after the 1979 Camp David accords but the West Bank and Gaza remained in Israeli hands until the Oslo peace process suggested they become the basis of a Palestinian state.

    ​Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2005 but the West Bank has seen the growth of Jewish settlements and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear he is unwilling to hand it over to the Palestinians any time soon, despite numerous UN resolutions which proclaim it as illegally occupied.

    The Israelis see Jerusalem as their capital — Trump has endorsed that view and pledged to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv — and they reject the Palestinians' claim that East Jerusalem should be the capital of a Palestinian state.

    The impasse could be broken by Jared Kushner's imminent peace deal, although few experts believe it will offer many concessions to the Palestinians.


    Nagorno-Karabakh is an enclave with an Armenian majority population which for some reason Stalin put in Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union was created.

    The conflict started in 1988 when the autonomous region announced its secession from the Azerbaijan socialist republic of the Soviet Union.

    In 1991, the region proclaimed independence from Azerbaijan and the creation of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, with its capital at Stepanakert.

    The Armenian army moved in to defend their kinfolk and defeated Azerbaijan in a military conflict, which led to Baku losing control over the region, which is now known as the Republic of Artsakh.

    The warring sides agreed to a cessation of hostilities in 1994 but the violence escalated again in 2016, leading to multiple casualties.

    Last year Germany's Angela Merkel offered to take responsibility for solving the conflict, but nothing has come of it.


    The conflict in Kashmir stems from the ending of the British Raj in the 1940s.

    The partition of the Raj created two states — India, with its Hindu majority, and Pakistan, which was overwhelmingly Muslim (and originally included what is now Bangladesh).

    But Britain also allowed hundreds of Indian princes to choose which state they wanted to join and the biggest of these princedoms was Jammu and Kashmir.

    ​Its ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, opted for independence because he believed the majority of Kashmiris who were Muslim would not want to join Pakistan.

    But when Pakistani tribesmen began to invade, the Maharaja sought Indian help and agreed to join India.

    That sparked the first Indo-Pakistan War.

    There have been three more wars — in 1965, 1971 and 1999 — where the two armies have clashed over Kashmir and in February 2019 another conflict threatened to explode after Indian jets bombed Pakistan-administered Kashmir and an Indian plane was shot down by the Pakistanis.

    The northern portion of Kashmir remains in Pakistani hands but the remainder is still Indian, with a restive largely Muslim population who either want independence or reunion with Pakistan.


    Cameroon, which is situated between Nigeria and Congo in central Africa, was a German colony between 1884 and 1916.

    After Germany's defeat in the First World War it became a French colony and eventually became independent in 1960.

    There are 23 million people in Cameroon, around one in is English-speaking and they have long claimed to be discriminated against by the French-speaking majority.

    ​President Paul Biya, who has been in power since 1982, has been accused of whipping up violence against the Anglophones who live mostly in the west, close to the border with Nigeria.

    Many Anglophones now want to create their own country, nominally called Ambazonia.

    Ambazonian rebels launched an uprising in 2017.


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