Western Sahara clash exposes tensions with Moroccans

Sat Oct 1, 2011 12:32pm GMT

By Souhail Karam

DAKHLA, Western Sahara Oct 1 (Reuters) - Moroccan security forces deployed in the city of Dakhla in the disputed territory of Western Sahara this week after an outburst of violence that pitted members of the indigenous Sahrawi population against their Moroccan neighbours.

Moroccan officials said 7 people were killed after rival groups of supporters clashed following a soccer match last Sunday, and local criminals then joined in the violence.

"Those behind the clashes are a minority: they are thugs and traffickers," said a senior government source in the city. "It should not affect the general course of things".

But accounts from local people suggested the root cause of the clashes was not soccer hooliganism but the tensions between natives of Western Sahara and the Moroccans who had arrived in large numbers since Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975.

The clashes indicate that the "hearts of Sahrawis have yet to be won" by the Moroccan authorities, said Mustapha Khalfi, editor of Moroccan daily newspaper Attajdid.

Morocco says Western Sahara, a sparsely-populated tract of desert, should come under its sovereignty, while independence movement the Polisario Front says it is an independent state.

The Polisario waged a guerrilla war against Moroccan forces until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991. Attempts to reach a lasting deal since then have foundered.

Dakhla lies on the Atlantic Ocean about 1,600 km south of the Moroccan capital.   Continued...

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