Morocco annexed the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara (formerly Spanish Sahara) in 1976 and claimed the rest of the territory in 1979, following Mauritania's withdrawal. A guerrilla war with the Polisario Front contesting Morocco's sovereignty ended in a 1991 UN-brokered cease-fire and the nearly 1,700 mile-long defensive sand berm built by the Moroccans from 1980 to 1987 separates the opposing forces with Morocco controlling the roughly 80 percent of the territory west of the berm. A UN-organized referendum on the territory's final status has been repeatedly postponed. The UN since 2007 has sponsored intermittent talks between representatives of the Government of Morocco and the Polisario Front to negotiate the status of Western Sahara. Morocco has put forward an autonomy proposal for the territory, which would allow for some local administration while maintaining Moroccan sovereignty. The Polisario, with Algeria's support, demands a popular referendum that includes the option of independence. Ethnic tensions in Western Sahara occasionally erupt into violence requiring a Moroccan security force response.
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, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), near Tindouf, Algeria, led by President Mohamed ABDELAZIZ; territory partitioned between Morocco and Mauritania in April 1976 when Spain withdrew, 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 Organization of African Unity (OAU) member in 1984; Morocco between 1980 and 1987 built a fortified sand berm delineating the roughly 80 percent of Western Sahara west of the barrier that currently is controlled by Morocco; guerrilla activities continued sporadically until a UN-monitored cease-fire was implemented on 6 September 1991 (Security Council Resolution 690) by the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO)
Western Sahara has a small market-based economy whose main industries are fishing, phosphate mining, and pastoral nomadism. The territory's arid desert climate makes sedentary agriculture difficult, and Western Sahara imports much of its food. The Moroccan Government administers Western Sahara's economy and is a source of employment, infrastructure development, and social spending in the territory. Western Sahara's unresolved legal status makes the exploitation of its natural resources a contentious issue between Morocco and the Polisario. Morocco and the EU in July 2006 signed a four-year agreement allowing European vessels to fish off the coast of Morocco, including the disputed waters off the coast of Western Sahara. Oil has never been found in Western Sahara in commercially significant quantities, but Morocco and the Polisario have quarreled over who has the right to authorize and benefit from oil exploration in the territory. Western Sahara's main long-term economic challenge is the development of a more diverse set of industries capable of providing greater employment and income to the territory.
country code - 212; tied into Morocco's system by microwave radio relay, tropospheric scatter, and satellite; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean) linked to Rabat, Morocco
Many neighboring states reject Moroccan administration of Western Sahara; several states have extended diplomatic relations to the "Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic" represented by the Polisario Front in exile in Algeria, while others recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara; most of the approximately 102,000 Sahrawi refugees are sheltered in camps in Tindouf, Algeria