Morocco bars Western Sahara investigation

Speaking in Algeirs, Polisario Front leader Mohamed Abdelaziz called for a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. “We won’t opt for violence. We will continue to fight through peaceful means,” he told a news conference. But he also called on the international community to investigate the recent repression and especially the ongoing detention of dozens of people following last months protests in Western Sahara.

“The situation is explosive. Tens of our students are behind bars. Some of them were tortured. It is quite urgent to let international observers and journalists get into the territory to report on that,” said Abdelaziz, who has led the Polisario since 1976.

Morocco twice this past week refused to allow Spanish politicians to visit the disputed territory, turning them back when their planes landed in Laayoune (the regional capital, variously rendered El Aaiun and al-Ayoun). (Reuters, June 11)

Relatives of the detained staged a sit-in in Laayoune June 10 demanding their release. But there was little news media on hand, as Moroccan authorities have also been barring journalists from the occupied territory since last month’s unrest. An AFP photographer who managed to get spoke to al-Jazeera TV, which reported what he saw in Laayoune:

Security forces were on every street corner, watching over a desolate scene of shuttered windows, deserted streets, while intimidated residents said they feared for their safety and were reluctant to talk to the press.

Some residents agreed to show a news agency the wrecked insides of their homes, which they said were looted during the police and military raids launched in response to the demonstrations on 24-29 May.

Smashing doors and windows, television sets and beds, many families claimed the security forces robbed them of their jewellery and household goods. They claimed that several dozen homes in their neighbourhood were stripped bare.

Several women claimed to have been beaten during the crackdown, showing bruises and cuts they claimed were inflicted by the security forces.

The al-Ayoun regional administrator, Mohamed Rharradi, said the raids had targeted homes that had been used to stash stones and petrol used to make Molotov cocktails during the recent unrest.

(Al-Jazeera, June 11)

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