Morocco defended the actions of its security forces in last week’s deadly raid on a squatter camp in Western Sahara, and accused Sahrawi protesters of reacting savagely, a minister said on Monday.
At a news conference, Interior Minister Taieb Cherkaoui played a video that he said showed “a man armed with a knife slitting the throat of two members of the security forces, the first in the camp and the second in Laayoune”, the Western Sahara’s main town.
These were “barbarous acts”, said Cherkaoui. The video was shot by Moroccan police.
The raid on the camp near Laayoune housing thousands of Sahrawis, who moved there to protest against their living conditions, was carried out on November 8, a few hours before a new round of talks between the Polisario, the main Western Sahara rebel group, and the Moroccan government started near New York.
Morocco has said that 12 people died in clashes between protesters and the police, including 10 members of the security forces.
But the pro-independence Polisario said dozens of people died and more than 4 500 were wounded in the violence.
Cherkaoui said some Sahrawi protesters, whom he described as criminal gangs, “deliberately killed members of the security forces, used knives, Molotov cocktails and gas canisters” to start fires.
The police raid “was deliberately peaceful, no shots were fired and no deaths were reported from among the camp population and from Laayoune”, said Cherkaoui.
Moroccan Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri told the same press conference that “a minority group has taken the Sahrawis hostage following a well-established agenda from overseas”. He did not elaborate.
But he said that this “agenda was established with the aim to scupper negotiations with the Polisario”.
Morocco annexed the Western Sahara following the hasty withdrawal of colonial power Spain in the dying days of the regime of right-wing dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, sparking a war with the Polisario Front.
The two sides agreed on a ceasefire in 1991, but United Nations-sponsored talks on its future have since made no headway.
The foreign minister said on Monday “dialogue and negotiation” were the only way out of the long-standing conflict.
Spanish human rights group to file a case
A Spanish human rights group said earlier on Monday it would file a court case against the Moroccan government over the raid and the death of a Spanish citizen in the territory.
The complaint alleging crimes against humanity will target Morocco’s interior, defence and foreign ministers as well as the governor of Laayoune, a spokesman for the Spanish League for Human Rights said.
He added it would be filed at Spain’s National Court — which handles crimes against humanity and genocide — on Tuesday. — Sapa-AFP