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Modern states /
Western Sahara
In French: Republique arabe sahraouie démocratique





Click for country map Search 'Western Sahara'

Major cities
Laayoune200,000
Dakhla75,000
Boujdour50,000
Smara45,000


Status
Republic under partial Moroccan occupation. A referendum over Western Sahara's future is pending, due to disagreements over who should be allowed to participate in the election.
Government
None. See article on Polisario for information on the exile army and liberation organization.
Geography
Inhabitants: 900,000 (2005 estimate)
Original inhabitants: 270,000
Total area: 266,000 km²
Density: 3 per km²
Not occupied: Approx. 40,000 km²
Border: 2,046 km (Mauritania 1,561 km, Algeria 42 km, Morocco 443 km)
Coastline: 1,110 km
Highest point: 463 m
Arable land: 0%
Capital: Laayoune
Economy
GDP: US$0.9 billion
GDP per capita: US$2,500 (World rank: 175)
Languages
Figures in 1000.
Semitic 900 100.0%
Arabic
900 100.0%
Moroccan
500 56.0%
Hassaniya
400 44.0%

Territory that is internationally recognized as a sovereign country, but which has been effectively occupied by Morocco and Mauritania (southern region 1975-1979) since 1975.
Morocco has annexed the territory, and treats it as a integrated part of the country. Today the majority of the people living in the region are from the mainland of Morocco. The indigenous population of Western Sahara are Sahrawis, and their exact number is difficult to estimate — many have moved into mainland Morocco, many others abroad, while a large group have sought refuge in neighbour countries, principally Algeria.
Morocco's claim to Western Sahara is connected to tribes of the region that had paid allegiance to Moroccan monarchs earlier. This has not been accepted by the World Court as sufficient to leave out a sovereign decision on the issue among the locals of the region.
The situation in Western Sahara is monitored by UN forces, who are experiencing little cooperation from Moroccan authorities.
For Morocco, and in particular the king, the matter with Western Sahara has become so important, that no solution in favour of the Sahrawis appear possible. The Green March, the action of Morocco to claim Western Sahara, has resulted in unity and national pride among Moroccans, where the idea that the capital of Laayoune is an extraordinarily beautiful city, while it is just like anywhere else in Morocco, should be an indicator of how strong sentiments are.
For the former king of Morocco, king Hassan 2, the Western Sahara situation resulted in unity around his position and as well as damming of the struggle for democratization. Compared to this national success, weak international protests count for little.
Among Sahrawis, there are generally strong anti-Moroccan sentiments, and many feel that there is a discrimination of them. Yet, more and more Sahrawis work in Morocco and become more and more integrated in the extended state.
According to United Nations' figures there are 275,000 inhabitants in Western Sahara (as of 1998), but these figures exclude refugees in neighbour countries, as well as Moroccan immigrants. All included (which is a possible outcome of a future peace agreement), the population of Western Sahara exceeds 1 million.

History
1884: Spanish colonization starts, with establishment of their headquarters in Laayoune.
1963: Discovery of high grade phosphates. Morocco and Mauritania starts to press on Spain to leave the territory.
1975: Western Sahara is granted self-determination.
— 350,000 civilian Moroccans march into the northern parts of Western Sahara, following the orders of King Hassan 2. The march is called The Green March.
1976 January: Clashes between Moroccan and Algerian military, and there is a clear danger for war between the two countries.
— The Spanish withdraws, leaving the northern 2/3 to Morocco, the southern 1/3 to Mauritania.
— The Sahrawis establish the guerrilla group Polisario, which receives support from Algeria and Libya, and is granted a base camp in the south-western corner of Algeria, in the town of Tindouf. Polisario attacks principally the feeble Mauritania.
1979 August 5: Mauritania backs out, after unsuccessful fightings against the Polisario, leaving their part to the Sahrawis. But Morocco moves in, and annexes this part of Western Sahara too.
— A period of Moroccan investments, and military fortification, starts. Drought worsens the situation for the Bedouin population of Western Sahara, who are forced to move into Laayoune or out of Western Sahara.
1980: Republique arabe sahraouie démocratique becomes member of the organization of African Unity, OAU, with strong protests from Morocco, which leaves the organization three years later. The republic's membership is only theoretical, as it has no land.
1988: Morocco and Polisario accept a UN peace plan, in which a referendum held in the area, shall decide for its future status. This referendum has been scheduled many times after this, but has never been held. The main problem is deciding who should participate in the referendum — Polisario accepts only those who lived in the region before 1975, and their descendants to participate. Morocco wants only those living in the region now (including a majority of Moroccans) to participate.
1991: Effective cease fire is established between Polisario and Morocco.
2000 July: Referendum was planned, but was not conducted. This is similar to several incidents earlier.




By Tore Kjeilen