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Western Sahara is the name of a disputed region in northwest Africa. The legal status of the territory and the issue of sovereignty are unresolved; the territory is contested by Morocco and the Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro), which in February 1976 formally formed a government-in-exile of what it refers to as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The Polisario views the SADR as incorporating the entire territory of Western Sahara, referring to the region controlled by Morocco as the "Occupied Territories" and the remainder, of which it claims control, as the free zone. Morocco also claims the entire territory, which it refers to as its "Southern Provinces". The Moroccan government refers to the Polisario controlled regions as its "buffer zone", claiming these regions as part of Moroccan territory. On the ground the Moroccan controlled zones are physically protected by a series of defensive works constructed by the Moroccan armed forces and manned by an estimate 160,000 Moroccan troops. It is estimated that several thousand Polisario troops are present in the area behind the Moroccan Wall of defense, which they regularly enter. Troop movements of Polisario are regularly subject to severe condemnations by the UN. The government-in-exile of the self-proclaimed SADR is headquartered in the Sahrawi refugee camps in the vicinity of the town of Tindouf in Algeria, situated close to the Algeria-Western Sahara border.
Western Sahara was appropriated by Spain at the Berlin Conference in 1884 along with other provinces that were returned to Morocco (Sidi Ifni and Tarfaya). After the colonial era the Polisario Front has fought guerrilla war against Morocco, and Mauritania for independence of Western Sahara. The war ended in a 1991 UN-brokered cease-fire; a UN-organized referendum on final status has been repeatedly postponed. Today, 50 states, mainly from Africa and Latin America, recognize the SADR as the legitimate government in Western Sahara. It is a member of the African Union, but not the United Nations nor the Arab League. Morocco is considered by the UN and many other countries as the administrative power of Western Sahara, though they don't recognize its sovereignty over it. Several thousand Sahrawis live in refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria.
A sangar (fortification) from the Western Sahara conflict. The fortification is built of rocks on top of a mesa overlooking the Grart Chwchia, Al Gada, Western Sahara. The Sangar is facing north and was probably built by the Sahrawis in the 1980s.