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Africa

Police raid on Western Sahara camp turns deadly

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Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-11-12

At least three people, including one policeman, were killed and scores more were injured on Monday after Moroccan security forces raided a refugee camp in the disputed Western Sahara region.

AFP - Moroccan forces raided a camp housing thousands of refugees in the Western Sahara on Monday, leaving three dead and scores injured in clashes, according to sources on both sides.
  
Mohamed Ghalous, the government representative for the Laayoune region, said the gendarmerie and auxiliary forces had moved in "to end a situation which had exhausted all means of dialogue," by dismantling the camp.
  
Moroccan security forces moved in early Monday to dismantle the camp housing some 12,000 people set up four weeks ago outside Laayoune, the main town in the Western Sahara, which was annexed by Morocco in the mid-1970s.
  
A paramilitary gendarme and a fireman were killed during the raid, Ghalous said, adding that almost 70 people were injured.
  
Later "a policeman was stabbed to death in central Laayoune by demonstrators who also attacked banks and cafes," said a Moroccan government official, who added that "there were no deaths among the protestors in Laayoune."
  
The Polisario Front guerrilla movement, which seeks independence for the Western Sahara, accused the security forces of injuring hundreds of people in the dawn raid on the camp outside Laayoune.
  
The foreign minister in a self-appointed government for the territory, Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, said the attack "left hundreds of wounded. I can't yet tell you the exact figure, notably if anyone was killed, but the hospitals are full."
  
The security forces raided the camp by ground and air, using helicopters, Salem Ould Salek told AFP in neighbouring Algeria, which is a host country for the Polisario Front and tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees.
  
"Law enforcement officers arrived around dawn using high-powered water cannon to clear the camp and several ambulances were seen taking the injured to hospitals," said an AFP reporter on the scene.
  
"Hundreds of women and children were seen outside the camp heading towards Laayoune but a certain number of Sahrawi (local) men refused to go," said a witness.
  
Fighting between police and protestors spread to the streets of Laayoune, said a Moroccan head of a local non-government organisation.
  
"The fighting started yesterday but was reignited when news of the assault on the camp was received," he said.
  
The road from Laayoune to the camp was blocked by police to prevent people from the town going to the camp to help protestors.
  
"The camp is practically dispersed and the young people who refused to go  were driven out by force following the intervention of the Moroccan authorities," a Laayoune resident who had returned from the camp told AFP.
  
Western Sahara was annexed by Morocco after Spanish settlers withdrew in 1975. But the Polisario Front fought the Moroccan presence until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991.
  
Polisario minister Salem Ould Salek said the Moroccan forces had "repressed in a ferocious and undiscriminating fashion the defenceless civilians who found themselves in the camp."
  
"We energetically condemn these shootings and massacres carried out by the Moroccan authorities after the aggressive speech by the king," Mohamed VI, who last week marked the 35th anniversary of the Green March, in which thousands of Moroccan settlers moved into the Western Sahara.
  
The unrest comes as Morocco and the Polisario Front prepare to meet in Greentree in the New York suburbs Monday and Tuesday, the third time the two sides have met for such talks.
  
All previous talks between the two sides on the future of the territory have come to nothing.
  
The Polisario Front wants a UN-organised self-determination referendum, with independence as one of the options. Morocco has so far rejected any proposal that goes beyond greater autonomy.

Date created : 2010-11-08

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