Flag description: None
Location: Northern Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean,
between Mauritania and Morocco
Geographic coordinates: 24 30 N, 13 00 W
Climate: hot, dry desert; rain is rare; cold offshore air
currents produce fog and heavy dew
Nationality: Sahrawi(s), Sahraoui(s)
Capital City: none
Population: 244,943 (July 2000 est.)
Head of State:
Area: 266,000 sq km
Type of Government: legal status of territory and question of
sovereignty unresolved; territory contested by Morocco and Polisario Front
(Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro),
which in February 1976 formally proclaimed a government-in-exile of the
Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR); territory partitioned between
Morocco and Mauritania in April 1976, with Morocco acquiring northern two-thirds;
Mauritania, under pressure from Polisario guerrillas, abandoned all claims
to its portion in August 1979; Morocco moved to occupy that sector shortly
thereafter and has since asserted administrative control; the Polisario's
government-in-exile was seated as an OAU member in 1984; guerrilla activities
continued sporadically, until a UN-monitored cease-fire was implemented
6 September 1991
Currency: 1 Moroccan dirham (DH) = 100 centimes
Major peoples: Arab, Berber
Official Language: none
Principal Languages: Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic
Major Exports: phosphates 62%
History: Spain established a colony there with El Aaiun (now
Aiun) as its capital in 1884. After large deposits of high-grade
phosphate were discovered in 1963, Morocco and Mauritania pressured Spain
to relinquish its hold on the area; Algeria, and later Libya, backed
an indigenous proindependence group known as the Polisario Front.
In 1975 the World Court ruled that Western Sahara should be granted self-determination.
Morocco's King HASSAN II ordered a mass march of 350,000 civilians (the
Green March) into the territory.
Although the Moroccans barely crossed
the border, Spain withdrew in 1976, ceding the northern two-thirds to Morocco
and the remainder to Mauritania. In 1979, after three years of desert
war, Mauritania signed a treaty with the Polisario renouncing its claims;
Morocco then annexed the entire area.
By the early 1980s Morocco, which had divided the area into four provinces,
accepted in principle the idea of a referendum but rejected demands by
the Organization of Africa Unity for direct negotiations with the Polisario.
To thwart guerilla attacks, Morocco built a fortified wall enclosing the
northwestern corner of Western Sahara, which contained most of the population
and mineral resources and the rich coastal fisheries.
many formerly nomadic Sahrawis into towns behind the wall, where Moroccan
investment and settlement sparked an economic boom. Libya halted
aid to the Polisario when it signed a treaty of union with Morocco in 1984.
In 1988, Morocco and the Polisario agreed to accept a UN peace plan calling
for a referendum on the future of the area.