Morocco has defended a raid on a West Sahara protest camp by its security forces as being “deliberately peaceful” and accused Sahrawi activists of “brutal practices” including cutting the throat of a Moroccan policeman.
Activists among the Sahrawis — as the desert territory’s inhabitants are known — have insisted their protest was peaceful and was focused on social demands like jobs and housing, not on political issues. Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony in northwest Africa that was annexed by Morocco in 1975, sparking a rebellion by the Polisario Front. The United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991, but a political settlement to Africa’s longest-running territorial dispute has eluded negotiators.
Morocco said 10 members of its security forces were killed in the clashes that erupted on November 8 when they broke up the protest camp on the edge of Laayoune, the territory’s main city, and demonstrations later that day in the streets of the city.
Polisario, the territory’s independence movement, said in a letter to the U.N. Security Council on Monday that more than 36 Sahrawis died in the clashes and 163 were detained, and demanded a U.N. investigation of the clashes.
Moroccan Interior Minister Taieb Cherkaoui and Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri held an unprecedented joint news conference to show video footage shot by Moroccan police, showing at least one Moroccan policeman’s throat being cut.
“We watched the slaughter operation. This can only be done by a well-trained person who had experience in such killing,” Cherkaoui said. “This violence is alien to Moroccans whether they are in the Sahara or elsewhere.”
The Polisario and Western Saharan activists have said they were staging a peaceful protest which was the subject of an excessively violent attack by Moroccan security forces. They say they defended themselves but have disputed the Moroccan casualty figures, saying many more civilian protesters were killed and wounded than the Moroccan authorities say.