Chronology and Fact Sheet on Disturbances in Laayoune, Morocco

November 15, 2010 Chronology and Fact Sheet on Disturbances in Laayoune, Morocco On October 9, residents of Laayoune began setting up a symbolic protest camp in the desert east of the city. People came to the camp from their homes in Laayoune to demonstrate for additional housing and job opportunities to accommodate the growing population. Over the past year, there has been a significant increase in the influx of refugees from the Tindouf camps in Algeria. The people in the camp believed the recent arrivals received preferential treatment in terms of housing and subsidies based on specific tribal affiliations and the government’s desire to settle newcomers as quickly as possible. Over the next two weeks, Moroccan authorities met with the protestors, who numbered in the thousands, to discuss their grievances. Committees made up of public authorities, sheiks, elected officials, and representatives of civil society began meeting regularly. What began as a peaceful protest quickly deteriorated into a dangerous situation when a number of known criminals and pro-Polisario militants infiltrated the camp and tried to gain control. On October 24, there was a violent altercation that led to the death of a 14-year old boy. The car in which the youth was riding attempted to run a checkpoint and came under fire from authorities. After shots were fired and the vehicle stopped, weapons were found in the possession of some of the passengers. In investigating this episode, authorities discovered the infiltration by the criminal element and by pro-Polisario militants who tried to hijack this social protest having nothing to do with Polisario political aims. Last week, authorities concluded that the people in the camp were in danger. After securing the judicial authorization required by Moroccan law, the decision was made to dismantle the camp in the early morning hours Monday November 8, 2010. The time was determined by the fact that there were the fewest number of people in the camp on Monday mornings, since many of them regularly left the camp to return to their homes in Laayoune for the weekends. On Monday morning, before 6 a.m. local time, authorities sent helicopters with megaphones asking people to leave the camp. A majority of them complied with the request and left. From 6:30-7:45 a.m., anti-riot forces moved into the camp with only anti-riot equipment and water cannons, carrying no weapons. A small group of militants inside the camp fought the anti-riot forces with bottled gas canisters, Molotov cocktails, and knives. 70 Moroccan policemen were injured and 10 killed by the militant group inside the camp. Immediately after the camp was disbanded, small armed groups from the camp went into the city of Laayoune and set fire to targeted buildings including a TV station and a bank. The militants beheaded an unarmed policeman. Following these events, 65 people carrying weapons were arrested and await prosecution. The Polisario and its supporters have made a number of unfounded allegations trying to cover up the deplorable violence committed by their backers. After examining the camp site, the UN Secretary-General's representative, MINURSO head Hany Abdel-Aziz, gave an account that countered these allegations. He told French daily Le Monde "I saw no trace of bullet cartridges" in the camp authorities dismantled outside Laayoune. Instead, he was “amazed by the number of butane gas bottles" which militants used to set fires. In addition, Spanish news agency EFE admitted to erroneously publishing 4-year-old Gaza photos supplied by pro-Polisario sources that falsely identified the infant victims as coming from Monday’s unrest in Laayoune. Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said exploiting the photos of injured Palestinian infants was “disinformation” to mislead international public opinion and distort Morocco’s record. He reiterated Palestinian support of Morocco’s efforts to settle the Western Sahara conflict by peaceful means.