The Western Sahara is neither a sovereign state nor a part of Morocco but remains under administrative control of Morocco.
Western Sahara is a territory in North Africa that lies along the Atlantic Coast and shares its borders with Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania.
The political status of Western Sahara is presently under dispute. Morocco claims Western Sahara as its territory, while the Polisario Front, comprising local people known as Sahrawis, is fighting to claim independent nation status for Western Sahara.
The total population is around 570,000 with majority being local Sahrawis, tribes that originally migrated from Yemen. Due to harsh arid conditions across most of its territory, only around a fifth of the total land is used for agriculture. The country is known to have large deposits of iron ore and phosphates along with unexplored offshore oil reserves.
In 1884, the Spanish first arrived here and colonized the territory for around 100 years calling it Spanish Sahara. The Polisario Front came into existence in 1973 to launch the Sahrawi Movement, a fight for independence.
In 1975, Morocco launched the Green March into Western Sahara to stake its claim over the entire territory. Over 350,000 Moroccan civilian volunteers, supported by Moroccan soldiers, crossed over into Western Sahara.
Facing repeated militant attacks over a period, Spain eventually decided to exit the region and signed an agreement Morocco and Mauritania to hand over control to both countries. Polisario Front was not party to this agreement and therefore never recognized Morocco or Mauritania authority. Mauritania soon decided to exit the territory leaving Morocco with complete control of Western Sahara.
The resulting guerilla warfare launched by the Polisario Front lasted sixteen years until ceasefire was brokered by the UN in 1991. Years of conflict resulted in thousands of Sahrawis being displaced and have since taken refuge, under UN supervision, at camps in Tindouf, near the Algerian border.
Stakeholders in Western Sahara
- The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) is widely recognized as the representative body of local Sahrawis and is also supported by the Polisario Front.
- Algeria is the main supporter of Polisario and its fight for independence. SADR has popular recognition within the African Union and the EU but Morocco remains staunchly opposed to any international intervention to grant recognition to Western Sahara as an independent state. It is willing to cede administrative autonomy to the region but only as part of Morocco. Until a permanent solution to the problem is agreed upon by all stakeholders, Western Sahara remains a disputed territory under Moroccan control.