RABAT — A youth was killed and five people were wounded by Moroccan police when they tried to gain access to a camp near Laayoune in Western Sahara, a source close to local authorities said.
The source said a clash had broken out between a group of youths and the police who had “opened fire and killed a 14-year-old.” The wounded were taken to a military hospital in Laayoune.
More than 5,000 residents of Laayoune set up tents October 19 seven kilometres (four miles) outside the town in the direction of Smara to protest against social conditions in the former Spanish colony. Several witnesses said the number of protesters had grown to over 10,000.
The youths “were in two cars. A bullet was fired from one of the vehicles, which forced the security forces to riposte,” the interior ministry said in a statement.
“One person was killed and three others were wounded in the exchange of fire,” the statement added. “The prosecutor’s office of the Laayoune appeal court has ordered a judicial inquiry.”
The incident occurred just after a brief visit to Morocco by the UN special envoy for the Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, who had arrived Friday in hope of reviving talks between the kingdom and the Polisario Front separatist movement, officials said.
Ross arrived in Casablanca from the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, as part of a tour of the region that has already taken him to Algeria, which backs the Polisario Front’s claim to the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara.
A former Spanish colony, Western Sahara was annexed by Morocco after settlers withdrew in 1975. The north African kingdom stakes a historical claim to the territory, which Polisario violently opposed until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991.
Polisario wants a UN-organised referendum that would give the Sahrawi people three choices: attachment to Morocco, independence or autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.
Morocco backs the option of broad autonomy for the territory, but rejects any notion of independence for Western Sahara.