Area of Africa on the Atlantic Ocean between Morocco and Mauritania. It's claimed and administered by Morocco but there is an independence movement and the UN does not recognize Morocco's rule.

Until 1884 the area known now as Western Sahara was without central rule. It was inhabited by nomadic Moorish tribes (who have embraced Islam in the 7th century CE), speaking an Arabic dialect known as Hassaniya.

In the Berlin Conference of 1884, in which European Powers decided upon the division of Africa amongst themselves, the area of Western Sahara was placed under the "Protection of Spain". In that year, Spain has issued a royal decree of its intentions to take possession of the region, naming it "Spanish Sahara". Spanish troops were sent to Westren Sahara to stamp out resistance (which they had only accomplished completely in 1932).

The borders of Western Sahara were drawn in a series of agreements between Spain and France, which were finalized on November 27th, 1912.

In the early 1950's the great phosphate mines in Buccra were discovered, estimated to contain one of the biggest high grade phophate deposits in the world. The reserves of this zone were estimated to be more than 10 million tons and 70 to 80% pure. This has strengthened Spanish will to remain in the region, and clashes with the local population broke in 1956. The riots were subdued in 1958, with the aid of France and Morocco. In return Spain ceded Tarfaya to Morocco.

The 1960's saw the de-colonization of Africa (UN resolution 1514), and in 1961 and 1963 Western Sahara was declared a spanish province to be de-colonized. In 1965 The U.N. General Assembly reaffirmed the "inalienable right of self-determination by the Sahrawi people" and requested Spain to end its colonial rule.

In 1973 the Polisario Front is founded and its armed battle against the Spanish rule begins.

In 1975, king Hassan II of Morocco suggests referring the question of the control over Western Sahara to the ICJ in the Hague, and the UN adopts such a resolusion. The advisory opinion was issued on October 16th 1975, and stated that Western Sahara had a right to self-determination and that Spain, Morocco and Mauritania had no legal claim to it.

In that same year, Spain decided to end its colonial rule over Western Sahara. However, before its withdrawal it has signed an agreement with Morocco and Mauritania, granting them de-facto control over the region.

As Spanish troops vacated the country, Morocco and Mauritania invaded Western Sahara, with the first siezing control over the northern 2/3 of the country, and the latter taking over the remainder.

The Polisario Front directed its war eforts against the two new invaders, and in 1979 Mauritania withdrew from its holdings in Western Sahara, which were summarily taken over by Morocco. Morocco has promised to hold a referendum regarding the future status of the country, but has since enacted a policy of stalling, and to this day, a referendum has not yet been held.

On the other hand tens of thousends of Sahrawi have fled the Moroccan invaders to refugee camps (mostly in Algeria). The estimated number of these refugees is about 155,000-165,000 people.

Between 1980 and 1987, financed by Saudi Arabia, Morocco has constructed a long defensive barrier to prevent the Polisario Front from continuing its attacks on its troops. Effectively, Polisario Front controls all areas to the east of the barrier.

The barrier, longer than the Great Wall of China and than the Israeli West Bank barrier, cuts diagonally through Western Sahara, extending from the north-east corner down to the south-west, near the Mauritanian border, granting Morocco the two-thirds of the territory which contain most of the fertile land, the coast with its fishing industry, huge phosphate deposits, and recently discovered oil reserves. It is made of earth, rock and sand, reinforced with soldiers, anti-personnel and anti-tank landmines, trenches and radar detectors. Also known as the berm, the sand wall, with bunkers and fences is three metres high with regularly spaced garrisons, manned by Moroccan troops, barbed wire and several million landmines. The wall holds the biggest concentration of landmines in Western Sahara.

During the years of occupation Morocco has settled Western Sahara with about 200,000 Moroccan civilians in various settlements throughout the region.

In 1990 the Security Council of the UN, has ratified in resolution 658, a suggestion for a settlement plan suggested by the Secretary General, and in 1991 in its resolution 690, it has set the timetable for the implementation of the peace settlement in Western Sahara. However the plan was not in fact implemented, as the parties could not agree on terms for preliminary cease fire, which was supposed to be the beginning of the implementation of the settlement. Morocco used this as an excuse to stall even further the referendum that the UN plan suggested, and has demanded that Moroccan settlers would be allowed to participate in it.

In the 15 years since resulution 690 was passed, the UN has spent over 600,000,000 Euros on the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). The Mission's mandate has been extended 31 times, and staff, which originally numbered 3,000 people, has been cut to 228 civilians, and 231 military personnel, who are not allowed to bear arms and are meant to stand between the 120,000 people of the Moroccan Army and the 15,000 people of the Polisario.


Sources:

http://www.wsahara.net/

http://www.arso.org/sidatie.171000.htm

http://www.europaworld.org/week94/loomingfood30802.htm

http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=38958&SelectRegion=West_Africa&SelectCountry=WESTERN_SAHARA

http://www.merip.org/newspaper_opeds/IA-Other-MidEast-Settlers.html

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