A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.
— Moslih Eddin Saadi, 1184 - 1283
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Western Sahara

Background

Western Sahara

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; 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.

About

Western Sahara is an area in North Africa bordering the Atlantic Ocean, between Mauritania and Morocco. Its governance is disputed between Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), but the majority of it is occupied by Morocco.

None of the content in this guide should be taken as a political endorsement of claims by either side in the dispute over the sovereignty of these territories.

Read more about Western Sahara in our Western Sahara travel guide »

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Western Sahara

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Western Sahara

Capital
El-Aaiun
Location

Northern Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Mauritania and Morocco

Area comparative

about the size of Colorado

Border countries

Algeria 42 km, Mauritania 1,561 km, Morocco 443 km

Coastline

1,110 km

Climate

hot, dry desert; rain is rare; cold offshore air currents produce fog and heavy dew

Terrain

mostly low, flat desert with large areas of rocky or sandy surfaces rising to small mountains in south and northeast

Lowest point

Sebjet Tah -55 m

Highest point

unnamed elevation 805 m

Natural resources

phosphates, iron ore

Population

491,519

Ethnic groups

Arab, Berber

Religions

Muslim

Languages

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, 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)

Internet country code

.eh

Airports

6 (2010)

Ports and terminals

Ad Dakhla, Laayoune (El Aaiun)

Other countries in the region