Kate Monk's Onomastikon

(Dictionary of Names)

Western Sahara

(Spanish Sahara and Rio de Oro)

Capital : El Aaiun

Size: 103 000 sq m Popn: 250 000


This area was towards the south of Arab controlled Northern Africa. European settlers arrived in the C15th but it was largely under Moroccan control during this period. The area to the south was under Spanish control as the Rio de Oro from 1885 and as the country is opposite the Spanish ruled Canary islands it was declared a 'Spanish sphere of influence' in 1884 when it was known as the Spanish Sahara.

It became independent in 1956 but was claimed by Morocco which invaded but was driven out. After the discovery of rich phosphate deposits in 1965, Moroccan interest revived but the internal nationalist movement was strengthening under the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia al Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario) which was established in 1973. When the Spanish leader Franco died, the territory was divided between Morocco and Mauritania but Polisario declared independence as the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic. It was supported in a guerilla war by Algeria and later Libya and had succeeded in making Mauritania withdraw by 1979.

A peace agreement was made and the SADR was accepted as a member of the Organization of African Unity in 1982 and had gained diplomatic recognition from 70 countries by 1990 although Morroca still controlled most of the land with an elctronic defensive wall protecting the phosphate mines. As Libyan and Algerian support declined, the wall was extended but in 1988 Morocco and the Polisario Front agreed to a UN sponsered cease fire and a referendum to decide the country's political future. Disagreements over the terms of the referendum have led to continued fighting.

This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.

Copies may be made for personal use only.

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