By ROBERT F. WORTH and SOUAD MEKHENNET
Published: December 9, 2010
LAAYOUNE, Western Sahara —Dozens of buildings are still blackened from fire on this remote desert city's main boulevard, their windows shattered, their doors boarded up. A hostile silence has reigned since the riot that broke out here last month, leaving 11 Moroccan officers dead and hundreds of people injured. The violence —the worst seen here in decades — has renewed a long-festering conflict between Wich Morocco governs which governs Western Sahara, and the separatist Polisario Front, based in and supported by neighboring Algeria. Many fear the episode will sow more chaos in this Colorado-size territory on the Atlantic coast, or even create an opening for Al Qaeda, which has gained a foothold in neighboring countries in northwest Africa in recent years. “There are real social tensions in Laayoune, but they are being fueled by the cold war between Morocco and Algeria,” said Tlaty Tarik, a political analyst. “This situation is becoming more dangerous, because of the violence and because Al Qaeda is now present in the region.” The riot began after the police evacuated a protest camp set up just outside this city by Sahrawis, the once nomadic native people of the area, who are now outnumbered by wealthier Moroccan emigrants from the north. Knife-wielding thugs — who may have had a political agenda — appear to have hijacked the peaceful protest. The security forces later retaliated, detaining and beating dozens of Sahrawis, according to witnesses and a report by Human Rights Watch. Ever since, divisions appear to have deepened, both among the Sahrawis themselves, and with Moroccans living in this newly built city of tidy houses. “After what happened, nothing feels normal, and people don’t feel safe here,” said a 25-year-old Sahrawi man named Laghdaf, who was sitting on the steps of a half-built cinder-block house recently. Some Sahrawis blame members of their own community, he said. Others say the Moroccan state has treated them unjustly. The unrest has spread beyond Western Sahara. On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Moroccans rallied in Casablanca, denouncing Spanish political parties and newspapers that had accused Morocco of carrying out a massacre in Laayoune. A fog of rumors and propaganda has helped obscure the facts about what happened here last month. The Polisario Front still maintains that the Moroccan authorities carried out a massacre after evacuating the camp, where about 12,000 people had gathered to protest social and economic conditions. “More than 30 people were killed,” some of them buried alive, Ahmed Boukhari, the Polisario representative at the United Nations, said in a telephone interview. Similar stories have appeared in the Algerian press. The truth, it soon emerged, was virtually the opposite: knife-wielding gangs from the camp attacked unarmed Moroccan security officers, killing 11 of them, according to the police, witnesses and human rights advocates. Gruesome video footage captured during the attacks shows one masked man deftly cutting the throat of a prone Moroccan officer, and another urinating on the body of a dead fireman. The savage and premeditated style of the killings prompted speculation that Qaeda-style militants might have been involved, but there is no evidence of that. Two or three civilians died, by most accounts, in what appeared to have been accidents. All told, 238 officers were injured, said Mohamed Dkhissi, the city’s police prefect. “We had to choose: a muscular intervention that risked mass casualties, or not to use force,” said Mohamed Jelmous, the governor of the Laayoune district. But the arrests and beatings that took place afterward could spread more anger among young Sahrawis, rights groups say. Moroccan officials concede that the tensions here are rooted partly in their own mistakes. They have doled out land and money to new Sahrawi refugees from Polisario-controlled areas, a policy aimed at winning hearts and minds that has angered the original Sahrawi residents. “There has been corruption and poor administration, and this has fed the anger,” said Mohamed Taleb, the director of a government-aligned human rights group here. The problem is also partly a colonial legacy. Morocco first occupied Western Sahara in 1975, after the Spanish, who had ruled it as a colony for almost a century, withdrew. The Polisario, formed with Algerian support, demanded independence for the region. It began waging a guerrilla war and lobbied other countries to recognize a Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic with Laayoune as its capital. It had some success (mostly among African nations), though the number of supporters waxed and waned according to political expediency. The United Nations helped broker a cease-fire in 1991, with the agreement that a referendum would be held to decide whether Western Sahara would be independent or remain part of Morocco. That has not happened, because Morocco and the Polisario cannot agree on who should be allowed to take part. In the meantime, Morocco has poured money into Laayoune, making the debate over independence almost an anachronism. What was once a Spanish fort and a cluster of tents is now a modern city of 300,000, a profitable hub for fishing and phosphate mining with its own airport. Sahrawis now constitute less than 40 percent of the population. Independence would in all likelihood turn Laayoune into an Algerian satellite. Moroccans in the north, who are keenly aware of the money their government has spent here, say that prospect is intolerable. In 2007, Morocco proposed that Western Sahara be granted autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty, an idea that found favor with the United States and France. Many Sahrawis seem to like the idea. Earlier this year, the former security chief of the Polisario, Mustapha Salma, who went to Laayoune under a program of exchange visits, publicly declared his support for the autonomy proposal. But the Polisario has held firm to its demands for independence. When Mr. Salma returned to the Polisario’s base in Algeria, he was arrested. He then disappeared, and is now reported to be in Mauritania. Diplomacy aside, some Sahrawis say they have never been truly accepted by the Moroccan authorities, and feel that they are living under an occupation, even if they believe independence is not a viable option. Joblessness among young Sahrawis, many say, is a cause of the violence. “All Sahrawis live in fear,” said Ghania Djeini, the director of a human rights group. “There is now a hatred between Moroccans and Sahrawis, and the attacks on security forces show this hatred.” Ms. Djeini reeled off grievances like job discrimination, government corruption and “disappearances” that took place in the 1980s and 90s. These disappearances happened throughout Morocco during those years, not just in the Sahrawi area. Since the events of Nov. 8, many Moroccans here have fresh grievances of their own. The bad blood does not bode well for Western Sahara’s future. “What Algeria did is not right,” said Abderrahim Bougatya, the father of the officer whose throat was cut last month, as he sat next to his wife in the family living room, tears running down his cheeks. “They have burned our hearts. They have hurt us a lot.
” Bryan Denton contributed reporting.
quelques extraits du texte intégral traduit par GOOGLE et corrigé par la rédaction
depuis la mutinerie qui a éclaté ici le mois dernier, faisant 11 morts dans les rangs des forces de l’ordre marocains et des centaines de blessés………...en Afrique du Nord ces dernières années. "Il existe de réelles tensions sociales à Laâyoune, mais ils sont alimentés par la guerre froide entre le Maroc et l'Algérie", a déclaré Tlaty Tarik, un analyste politique. "Cette situation est de plus en plus dangereuse, en raison de la violence et parce que Al-Qaïda est maintenant présente dans la région."….. L'émeute a commencé après que la police a évacué un camp de protestation mis en place juste à l'extérieur de cette ville par les Sahraouis, ce peuple nomade originaire de la région, qui sont maintenant plus nombreux que les riches émigrés marocains du nord………..Une nuée de rumeurs et la propagande a contribué à obscurcir les faits au sujet de ce qui s'est passé ici le mois dernier. Le Front Polisario maintient toujours que les autorités marocaines ont massacré après avoir évacué le camp, où environ 12.000 personnes s'étaient rassemblées pour protester contre les conditions sociales et économiques. "Plus de 30 personnes ont été tuées»,……… Les Nations Unies ont aidé à négocier un cessez-le-feu en 1991, avec l'accord pour un référendum qui serait organisé pour décider si le Sahara occidental serait indépendant ou continuer à faire partie du Maroc.Cela n'est pas arrivé, parce que le Maroc et le Polisario ne peuvent s'entendre sur qui devrait être autorisé à voter. ……........Layoune est devenue une plaque tournante rentable pour la pêche et des mines de phosphate avec son propre aéroport. ………En 2007, le Maroc a proposé que le Sahara occidental bénéficier d'une autonomie sous souveraineté marocaine, une idée proposé par États-Unis et la France………......Le chômage parmi les jeunes Sahraouis, beaucoup le disent, est une cause de la violence. "Tous les Sahraouis vivent dans la peur», a déclaré Ghania Djeini, le directeur d'un groupe de droits de l'homme. "Il ya maintenant une haine entre les Marocains et les Sahraouis, et les attaques contre les forces de sécurité montrent cette haine." Mme Djeini décrit les griefs comme la discrimination en emploi, la corruption gouvernementale et les «disparitions» qui ont eu lieu dans les années 1980 et 90…….Le mauvais sang ne présage rien de bon pour l'avenir du Sahara occidental.