Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Rebel clashes in the Sahara

REBEL protesters in Morocco have been attacked by live bullets, tear gas canisters, truncheons, stones and water cannon, it is being reported.

Western Sahara's independence movement said on Tuesday 11 people had been killed in clashes with Moroccan security forces.

Reports Reuters: "Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony which was annexed by Morocco in 1975 sparking Africa's longest-running territorial dispute, was the scene of violent clashes on Monday when Moroccan security forces raided a protest camp."

It says a statement released on Tuesday by the Polisario independence movement in Algeria, where it has its headquarters, said 11 people had been killed in Monday's clashes, 723 were wounded and 159 others had disappeared and were feared dead.

"The Moroccan forces of aggression used live bullets, tear gas canisters, truncheons, stones and water cannon against peaceful, defenceless civilians," the statement said.

Clashes erupted on the day officials from Morocco and the Polisario were gathering near New York for talks brokered by the United Nations and aimed at breaking the stalemate in their dispute, Africa's longest-running territorial conflict.

The protest camp of thousands of tents near Western Sahara's main city of Laayoune had been there for a month when attacked.

Adds Reuters: "Soon after, several hundred of the people forced out of the camp took their protest to the streets of Laayoune, where they blocked roads with burning tyres, set fire to cars, and threw stones at police."

One protester told Reuters from the scene: "Anger is boiling over. We are in the streets protesting against Morocco."

Western Sahara is a sparsely populated tract of desert about the size of Britain, with rich fishing grounds off its coast and reserves of phosphates, used to make fertiliser and detergent.

Morocco says the territory should come under its sovereignty, while the exiled Polisario Front says Western Sahara is an independent state.

The Polisario waged a guerrilla war against Moroccan forces until the United Nations brokered a cease-fire in 1991.