Monday, January 3, 2011

Moroccan parliament to probe W. Sahara violence

RABAT — Moroccan members of parliament on Monday decided to set up a commission to probe the violent events on November 8 that marked the dismantling of a settlement camp in the Western Sahara.
"It's the first time that a parliamentary commission of inquiry will work in the (Western) Sahara," Saad-Eddine Othmani, an MP from the opposition Justice and Development Party (PJD) and one of the vice-presidents of the commission, told AFP.
According to a statement published Monday by the parliament, the commission will investigate "the events at the Gdim Izik camp and the acts of violence recently witnessed in Laayoune," the chief town in the Moroccan-controlled territory.
Moroccan security forces on November 8 stormed and dismantled the Gdim Izik camp erected outside Laayoune by some 15,000 Sahrawis who objected to living conditions inside the town.
Violence erupted, in which Morocco says that 11 security officers and two civilians were killed, while the Polisario Front, which wants independence for the Western Sahara, says the casualty toll was far higher.
"Among the objectives of this commission, which will work for at least 45 days, are the pinpointing of responsibilities for what happened in Laayoune, from the putting up of the first tents right up to the events that followed the dismantling of the camp," Othmani said.
On November 25, the European parliament said it favoured a United Nations inquiry into the violence and voiced "the greatest concern about the significant deterioration of the situation in Western Sahara."
Tens of thousands of Moroccans marched Sunday in the northern port city of Casablanca to denounce what they saw as a "biased and unjust" resolution by the European parliament, accusing Spain's opposition Popular Party of being behind it.
Spain was the colonial power in the Western Sahara until 1975, when settlers left and Morocco later annexed the phosphate-rich territory.
Morocco has already rejected the notion of an investigation into the violence by the UN force deployed in the Western Sahara, MINURSO, which is monitoring a 1991 ceasefire between government troops and the Polisario Front and is mandated to oversee a referendum on the territory's future.
Polisario, backed notably by neighbouring Algeria, wants a UN-organised referendum that would give Sahrawis a choice among three options: being part of Moroccan territory, independence or self-government under Moroccan sovereignty.
Morocco will only agree to broad autonomy under its sovereignty and rejects any notion of independence.

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