Algiers: A Moroccan raid to clear a camp
in the Western Sahara left 11 refugees dead, the Polisario
Front independence movement said on Wednesday, as Moroccan
authorities upped their own death toll to six.
Clashes erupted yesterday when Moroccan forces broke
up a camp housing thousands of refugees outside the main town
of Laayoune in the former Spanish colony annexed by Rabat in
The violence coincided with the opening of UN-brokered
peace talks yesterday on the disputed territory.
"The heroic population of the town of Laayoune has
buried its martyrs, the number of which has risen until now to
11," said a Polisario statement released in neighbouring
Algeria, a host country for the movement.
"As for the injured, there are 723, and the list is
not exhaustive, and those people who are missing or are being
searched for by relatives is now 159, which leaves us to
suppose they are among the dead."
The Polisario also claimed Moroccan forces had
"ransacked hundreds of houses and stores and destroyed cars
belonging to Sahrawis (refugees)."
The camp of 12,000 people was set up four weeks ago
outside Laayoune, the main town in the Western Sahara. Locals
said it was entirely dismantled in the raid, apparently
launched because of deteriorating living conditions,
The Polisario said yesterday Moroccan security forces
had assaulted the camp by ground and air, using helicopters.
Moroccan authorities reported yesterday that five of
its security forces were killed, including in an incident in
the town. A sixth Moroccan official was pronounced dead today,
In Paris, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner
described the clashes as "very serious."
"There is a problem of urgency because in Laayoune the
clashes were very violent, the incidents very serious," he
said in remarks before the French national assembly.
"We don`t know the number of wounded and dead, both in
the tent camp and in town," he said, expressing condolences to
families of the victims.
From New York, the United Nations expressed regret
over the raid and subsequent violence.
"It is highly unfortunate that this operation and the
events preceding and following it have affected the atmosphere
in which these talks are being held," said UN spokesman Martin
Nesirky, as he called on all parties to exercise restraint.
Witnesses said Moroccan forces arrived around dawn
using high-powered water cannon to clear the camp, and several
ambulances took the injured to hospitals.