|General background: Morocco virtually annexed
the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara (formerly
Spanish Sahara) in 1976, and the rest of the territory
in 1979, following Mauritania's withdrawal. A guerrilla
war with the Polisario Front contesting Rabat's sovereignty
ended in a 1991 cease-fire; a referendum on final status
has been repeatedly postponed.
About the size of Colorado.
Hot, dry desert; rain is rare; cold offshore air currents
produce fog and heavy dew.
Mostly low, flat desert with large areas of rocky or
sandy surfaces rising to small mountains in south and
Population: 256,177 (July 2002 est.)
Ethnic groups: Arab, Berber
Language: Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic
Government type: Legal status of territory
and issue 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),led
by President Mohamed ABDELAZIZ and recognized by 54
nations; 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.
Legal system: NA
Economic overview: Western Sahara depends
on pastoral nomadism, fishing, and phosphate mining
as the principal sources of income for the population.
The territory lacks sufficient rainfall for sustainable
agricultural production, and most of the food for
the urban population must be imported. All trade and
other economic activities are controlled by the Moroccan
Government. Moroccan energy interests in 2001 signed
contracts to explore for oil off the coast of Western
Sahara, which has angered the Polisario. Incomes and
standards of living in Western Sahara are substantially
below the Moroccan level.
Communication/Telephone system: Sparse and
Places of interest: