Western Sahara Profile
The Western Sahara isn't so much a country, more a territory and a disputed one at that. Disputed by Morocco and the Algerian backed Polisario Front, a group that was set up in 1973 to represent the interests of the Saharawis, the native and nomadic population of the Western Sahara.
The territory is home to 500,000 people, around half of who live in its largest
city, El Aaiun. Western Sahara was ruled by Spain from 1884 as part of the
scramble for Africa, and became a province of Spain in 1934, being
administered by Spanish Morocco from 1939 onwards.
Morocco gained its
own independence from Spain in 1956 and continued to view Western Sahara as a
natural part of its kingdom, merely separated by the colonial powers.
Neighbouring Mauritania had similar ideas whilst Algeria, largely suspicious of
Morocco in particular, believed that the Saharawis had the right to self
The matter was considered by the
International Court of Justice in 1975 and concluded that the Saharawis had a right to self determination, and Spain, under duress to divest
its remaining colonies, agreed to hold a referendum to resolve the issue.
Matters were overtaken by the actions of Morocco's King Hassan II who marched
300,000 Moroccans into the disputed territory and Spain, sidetracked by its own
domestic issues, signed the Madrid Agreement, pulling out of the area (and even
repatriating Spanish corpses buried there), and
dividing the area between the protagonists Morocco and Mauritania.
Mauritania's first post
independence President, Moktar Ould Daddah, found his desire to unify the
annexed part of Western Sahara into a 'Greater Mauritania' his undoing as he met
fierce resistance from Polisario guerrillas, a resistance that proved his
undoing and he was replaced in a military coup. So ended Mauritania's claims to
any part of the Western Sahara. However just as Mauritania was signing a peace
deal, Morocco moved into territories formerly held by Mauritania and thousands
fled into Algeria and settled in the province of Tindouf. Today Tindouf remains the Polisario's
main base. Hostilities between The Polisario and Morocco continued unabated
until 1991, including the building of a 1677 mile defensive structure,
consisting of sand and stone walls with fences, bunkers and landmines across its
length, between Moroccan control and Polisario controlled areas of Western
Sahara effectively leaving the Polisario to inhabit what is largely