RABAT (AFP) – Moroccan authorities said Wednesday 163 people were detained following a police raid on a refugee camp in Western Sahara but denied knowledge of the alleged disappearance of an anti-Moroccan activist.
Nine people died in the raid to clear 12,000 refugees from the camp on Monday, according to Rabat, which has ruled the disputed territory since 1975.
The Polisario Front which opposes Moroccan rule says 11 people died, 723 were injured and 159 went missing after the attack.
“After the events at the Laayoune camp, 163 individuals were arrested and are in detention. They have been no disappearances, contrary to some reports,” Laayoune police chief Mohamed Dkhissi told AFP.
Western Sahara activists said that Annaama Asfari, 40, a Polisario sympathiser, had been missing since he was arrested on the eve on Monday’s attack on the camp.
“He was arrested by Moroccan police on Sunday, the eve of the attack, at the home of a friend and we have had no news of him since,” said Elghalia Djimi, vice president of the Western Sahara Association against Human Rights Violations.
Press freedom group Reporters without Borders said Tuesday that Morocco was blocking reporters from travelling to Laayoune.
It said about 10 reporters were being prevented from boarding flights for Laayoune at Casablanca airport.
“The international press … is a direct target of the Moroccan authorities,” the group said in a statement.
Western Sahara was annexed by Morocco after Spanish settlers withdrew in 1975. But the Polisario Front fought the Moroccan presence until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991.
The Polisario Front wants a UN-organised self-determination referendum, with independence as one of the options. Morocco has so far rejected any proposal that goes beyond greater autonomy.
Rabat’s historic ally France supports Morocco’s proposal.