November 10, 2010
Rabat - Calm was returning to Western Sahara on Wednesday after two days of clashes between Moroccan security forces and local people seeking independence for the desert territory, observers said.
Violence broke out on Monday after Moroccan forces tore down a tent camp set up by some 20 000 native Saharawi (usual spelling is Sahrawi) people outside the main city of Laayoune to protest discrimination and deprivation at the hands of the Moroccan government.
A local independence movement called the Polisario Front has long been locked in a conflict with Morocco, which claims the territory.
Brahim Elansari, a human rights activist in Laayoune, said soldiers and police were patrolling the streets but some districts were returning to normal.
"You can see stores open and people walking in the streets," Elansari said by telephone.
The Polisario Front declared independence in 1976 on behalf of the nomadic Saharawi, who have their own Arabic dialect and distinct culture.
The dispute is one of the world's longest unresolved conflicts. Each side claimed very different death tolls in the new violence.
Bucharaya Beyun, the Madrid delegate of the Polisario Front, said the death toll among Saharawis rose to 19 following the discovery of eight more bodies Tuesday.
The Polisario says another 723 people were hurt, with 159 people unaccounted for.
Morocco's official MAP news agency, meanwhile, said eight members of security forces had been killed. Morocco insists no civilians died.
Despite the clashes, informal talks between Morocco and the Polisario Front near New York City went ahead as scheduled Monday and wrapped up Tuesday.
UN special envoy Christopher Ross said the two sides were rejecting each other's proposals about how negotiations would proceed. - AP
Comment: Morocco's colonization of the Sahrawi people is one of the world's longest standing disputes that can be traced to Spain's colonization of Western Sahara. Morrocco has built a 2700km wall in the desert known as the Berm, or Moroccan Wall, between them and the Sahrawi resistance movement (the Polisario).
The inhumane oppression and colonization of the Sahrawi people does not receive enough global attention. President Obama has not mentioned the dispute once in the time he has been in office.
Former President Mandela called for the independence of Western Sahara in keeping with the African Union's position in 1994. Since then the dispute has only been mentioned in passing during Mbeki's administration and not at all during Zuma's.
South Africa's political leaders have short memories no doubt.
In April this year Amnesty International called for Morocco to "end the harassment of Sahrawi activists". See that report here.