Morocco Expels 19 Foreigners From West Sahara

Friday, 09 Nov 2012 06:27 AM

 

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RABAT, Morocco — Morocco has expelled 19 foreigners from the annexed territory of the Western Sahara, saying they were journalists who had entered without permission.

The action, which underlines Morocco's intense sensitivity over any criticism of its policies in the mineral rich region, came as activists calling for the independence of the Western Sahara were preparing to mark Thursday as two years since deadly clashes outside the regional capital, Laayoune.

Morocco's Interior Ministry issued a statement — carried by the state news agency on Wednesday — that quoted local authorities as saying the 15 Spanish and four Norwegian journalists planned to meet with "separatist" elements in Laayoune to engage in demonstrations on the anniversary of the clashes.

"These journalists entered the national territory without revealing their true identities, pretending to be on holiday in the kingdom," said the statement, which added that they had violated the laws governing foreign journalists.

The foreigners were expelled on Tuesday and Wednesday, and Spanish media reported that most of them were activists, not journalists.

On Nov. 8 2010, Moroccan police clashed with thousands of locals at the tent city of Gdeim Izek who were protesting government discrimination, and 11 police and two civilians were killed, according to Human Rights Watch. Morocco expelled three Spanish journalists following their coverage of that incident.

Morocco occupied and annexed the mineral-rich Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in November 1975 after the Spanish withdrew.

The Polisario Front declared independence on behalf of the inhabitants, the nomadic Saharawi people, and battled the Moroccan army until a 1991 truce brokered by the United Nations. The dispute is one of the world's longest unresolved conflicts.

The United Nations decreed that a referendum should be held for the locals to decide if they want independence, but the Moroccans have instead advanced a plan to give them wide-ranging autonomy.

Nine rounds of negotiations between the Polisario and the government have been unsuccessful, and in May Morocco criticized the special U.N. envoy, former U.S. diplomat Christopher Ross, for being biased and called for his replacement.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had to personally call Moroccan King Mohammed VI in August to resolve the situation, and Ross returned to the Western Sahara for meetings last week.

Activists have criticized the government for repressing locals in the region, and in September officials from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights visited and said they were followed during their visit by secret police, physically prevented from observing an attack on peaceful protesters, and verbally abused.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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