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|Western Sahara conflict|
Spanish Sahara (Spanish: Sáhara Español or Sahara Español; Arabic: الصحراء الاسبانية Al-Sahrā'a Al-Isbānīyah) was the name used for the modern territory of Western Sahara when it was ruled as a territory by Spain between 1884 and 1975. The territory represented one of the last remnants of the Spanish Empire. It was abandoned following international pressure, mainly from United Nations resolutions regarding decolonisation, as well as internal pressure from native populations and the external claims of Morocco and Mauritania. Its sovereignty remains under dispute.
In 1884, Spain was awarded the coastal area of present-day Western Sahara at the Berlin Conference and began establishing trading posts and a military presence. In the summer of 1886, under the sponsorship of the Spanish Society of Commercial Geography (Sociedad Española de Geografía Comercial), Julio Cervera Baviera, Felipe Rizzo (1823–1908) and Francisco Quiroga (1853–1894) traversed the colony of Rio de Oro and made topographical and astronomical observations in a land whose features were then barely known to geographers. Their trek is considered the first scientific expedition in that part of the Sahara.
The borders of the territory were not clearly defined until treaties between Spain and France in the early 20th century. Spanish Sahara was then created from the Spanish territories of Río de Oro and Saguia el-Hamra in 1924. It was not part of the areas known as Spanish Morocco and was administered separately from them.
On entering the territory in 1884, Spain was immediately challenged by stiff resistance from the indigenous Sahrawi tribes. A 1904 rebellion led by the powerful Smara-based marabout, Shaykh Ma al-Aynayn, was put down by France in 1910, but was followed by a wave of uprisings under Ma al-Aynayn’s sons, grandsons and other political leaders.
Tribal uprisings meant that Spain found it difficult to control parts of the territory's hinterland until 1934. With its independence in 1956, Morocco laid claim on Spanish Sahara as part of its alleged pre-colonial territory. In 1957, the Moroccan Army of Liberation nearly occupied the small territory of Sidi-Ifni, north of Spanish Sahara, during the Ifni War. The Spanish sent a regiment of paratroopers from the nearby Canary Islands and were able to repel the attacks. With the assistance of the French, control was soon re-established in the area. Subsequently, several punitive actions were undertaken to prevent future military actions. Some of the previously nomadic inhabitants of Spanish Sahara were forced to settle in certain areas and the rate of urbanization was increased. In the same year, Spain united the territories of Saguia el Hamra and Río de Oro to form the province of Spanish Sahara, while ceding the provinces of Tarfaya and Tantan (Cape Juby strip) to Morocco.
In the 1960s, Morocco continued to claim Spanish Sahara and succeeded in having it added to the list of territories to be decolonized. In 1969, Spain returned Ifni to Morocco, but continued to retain Spanish Sahara.
In 1967, Spanish rule was challenged by a protest movement secretly organized by the Moroccan government: the Harakat Tahrir. After its suppression of the 1970 Zemla Intifada, the Polisario Front was formed in 1973 as Sahrawi nationalism reverted to its militant origins. The Front's guerrilla army grew rapidly and Spain lost effective control over most of the territory by early 1975. An attempt at sapping the strength of Polisario by founding a political rival, the Partido de Unión Nacional Saharaui (PUNS), met with little success.
Spain proceeded to co-opt tribal leaders by setting up the Djema'a, a political institution loosely based on traditional Sahrawi tribal leaderships. The Djema'a members were hand-picked by the authorities, but given privileges in return for rubber-stamping Madrid's decisions.
In the winter of 1975, just before the death of its long-time leader Francisco Franco, Spain was confronted with an intensive campaign of territorial demands from Morocco and, to a lesser extent, from Mauritania, that culminated in the Marcha Verde ("Green March"). After negotiating the Madrid Accords with Morocco and Mauritania, Spain withdrew its forces and settlers from the territory and Morocco and Mauritania took control of the region. Mauritania later surrendered its claim after fighting an unsuccessful war against the Polisario Front. Morocco then began fighting against the Polisario Front, although a cease-fire came into effect in 1991. Today, the sovereignty of the territory remains under dispute.
The United Nations considers the former Spanish Sahara a non-self-governing territory, with Spain as the formal administrative power and, since the 1970s, Morocco as the current administrative power. UN peace efforts have aimed at holding a referendum on independence among the Sahrawi population, but this has not yet taken place. The African Union and at least 81 governments consider the territory to be the sovereign (albeit occupied) state of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), with a government-in-exile backed by the Polisario Front.
- "Encuentro con Premiados SGE 2007". Sociedad Geográfica Española.