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Latest update : 2010-11-12

The foreign ministers of Spain and Britain have expressed concern over Morocco's deadly raid on a refugee camp in Western Sahara, as exiled Sahrawis claim police killed dozens more people than was originally reported.

AFP - The Polisario Front independence movement claimed Friday that Moroccan forces killed dozens of people and wounded more than 4,500 while clearing a camp settlement in the Western Sahara.

Polisario, which seeks the independence of the Western Sahara from Morocco, also said that violence had spread from the Laayoune region where the camp was dismantled on Monday to the territory's other major city, Smara.

More than 2,000 people have been arrested, Polisario said in a statement which charged that Morocco's "army, auxiliary forces and police units are continuing to attack Sahrawi citizens, making arrests at random."

Ibrahim Ghali, the ambassador to Algeria of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which is recognised by the African Union but not by the United Nations, told AFP that the clashes spread on Thursday to Smara, 240 kilometres (150 miles) from Laayoune, the chief town.

"The situation is confused Friday in Smara where there have been numerous arrests," Ghali said without giving figures.

Polisario said that Smara was "the scene of violent demonstrations organised by young students in solidarity with the Sahrawi citizens of Laayoune." The movement added that police had closed schools in Smara "until further notice".

Morocco annexed the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, after Spanish settlers pulled out in 1975. The Polisario Front founded the SADR and waged a guerrilla war against Moroccan troops until a ceasefire was brokered by the United Nations in 1991.

The camp outside Laayoune was set up by some 12,000 people from the town who were protesting at bad living conditions, according to Polisario, which also accused Moroccan security forces of ransacking houses and destroying people's property in the coastal city.

Morocco has said that 12 people were killed during the raid to clear out the camp, 10 of them members of the security forces. Polisario's earlier toll was 11 dead and 723 injured.

Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez said Friday Madrid has demanded an urgent explanation from Morocco of the deadly raid.

British Foreign Office minister for the Middle East and North Africa Alistair Burt on Friday expressed grave concern at the unrest during a visit to Algeria, his first to the region.

"We view the situation with great concern, particularly after the reports of increased violence during the last few days," Burt told a news briefing.

He added that Britain was pressing for "human rights monitoring and the events of the last few days make it more urgent to happen."

On the future of the Western Sahara, Burt said that Britain backs the United Nations and "is for a negotiated settlement which takes into account the wishes of the Sahara people for self-determination."

Polisario wants a UN-organised referendum with three options: independence, autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty or attachment to Morocco. Rabat is simply offering self-government under Moroccan sovereignty.

Date created : 2010-11-12


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