Moroccan forces, Sahrawis clash in Laâyoune
By Mawassi Lahcen for Magharebia in Casablanca - 10/11/10
The visible aftermath of violence is easy to see at the tent camp of Gdaim Izik and the Western Sahara city of Laâyoune, still reeling from two days of deadly clashes with Moroccan troops.
Less clear is a death toll or the actual circumstances surrounding the military action.
The crisis began early Monday (November 8th), when Moroccan forces intervened to disperse a tent camp near Laâyoune set up three weeks ago to protest against Morocco's social policy in Western Sahara.
Amateur video shows the tent camps near Laayoune in the aftermath of the clearing operation by Moroccan security services.
Morocco says that eight security officers and one Sahrawi were killed. Other sources put the death toll at 11 Sahrawi civilians, with as many as 700 hundred injured.
Even the UN was unclear about the action. "The information available to us to date as to the reasons for this operation, the level of force employed, the reaction of those in the camp, and the number of casualties among the protesters and security forces is sketchy and contradictory," UN spokesman Martin Nesirky stated on Monday.
Local sources told Magharebia that the Royal Moroccan Gendarmerie forces used helicopters and loudspeakers in the early hours of Monday morning to urge protestors to evacuate the place via the buses they placed outside the camp.
"Security forces intervened because a group of elements was impeding the evacuation of the camp by preventing and threatening the people who wanted to go out of the camp," Laayoune province Governor Mohamed Jalmous said.
"The intervention of the security forces became necessary after all serious dialogue attempts to find a solution to the situation failed. However, the intervention of the security forces was met with violence by the trouble-making elements that were armed with knives and Molotov cocktails," he added.
The Sahrawis had a different explanation about what the Moroccan military forces were doing in the camp.
"[They] stormed hundreds of homes and shops and destroyed cars…using live ammunition, teargases, sticks, stones and water cannons against peaceful and unarmed civil population of more than 26 000 persons, mostly women, children and elderly," a Polisario official told the Sahara Press Service.
The operation to storm the camp led to the arrest of about 65 people. Al-Dakhla city security chief Mohamed Dkhissi claimed that the operation that lasted for less than one hour didn't lead to any deaths among the civilians.
However, things did not end there. No sooner had the security forces finished the evacuation of the camp than riots broke out in different neighborhoods across Laâyoune. Protestors allegedly set fire to vehicles and attacked the city municipality headquarters, regional investment centre, headquarters of the southern provinces development agency, Laâyoune television station and several banks.
Some demonstrators carried Polisario flags, calling for independence, while others held Moroccan flags in support of the union. The Moroccan authorities deployed army forces to the city.
The tense situation calmed down by the end of the day but isolated incidents were reported in different neighbourhoods.
The Moroccan military operation coincided with the Monday launch of the UN-brokered informal talks between Morocco and the Polisario in Manhasset, New York, The talks, aimed at paving the way for direct negotiations between the parties, ended without a breakthrough but the parties agreed to meet again.
In response to the Laayoune events, some Sahrawi tribal sheikhs urged the people to denounce violence and exercise self-restraint. For his part, Mohamed Nafii Belguassem, sheikh of Azerkine tribes, warned against the hidden hands which were behind the skirmishes and tried to thwart the peace process.
Ait Baamrane tribal sheikh Abdellah Ahmiyad said that ensuring the security and safety of citizens is a matter "above all other considerations". He warned against stirring discord and trouble and called for calm and resorting to wisdom.
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