Africa

'Eleven dead' in clashes in Western Sahara camp

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Media captionAerial footage shows the scale of the unrest

A raid by Moroccan security forces to clear a protest camp in Western Sahara has left 11 people dead, the region's pro-independence movement says.

The Polisario Front also says more than 700 people were wounded in the raid, while another 159 are missing.

The Moroccan authorities had earlier confirmed at least five deaths after Monday's clashes.

The camp near the territory's capital, Laayoune, was the biggest protest against Moroccan rule in 35 years.

Polisario accuses troops of using live ammunition, tear gas and water cannon against thousands of people at the camp.

The protests later spread to the streets of Laayoune.

A senior Moroccan official in Laayoune told Reuters news agency that about 160 people had been detained after being "caught red-handed in acts of vandalism".

The violence overshadowed the start of UN-mediated talks on the territory, which was annexed by Morocco in 1975.

The Gadaym Izik camp was set up about a month ago outside Laayoune as a protest by displaced Sahrawi people about their living conditions. It was home to more than 12,000 people.

Also on Tuesday, France has said it regrets the "surprising" decision by Morocco to turn away on Monday French MP Jean-Paul Lecoq, who wanted to travel to the area, and it has demanded explanations from Rabat.

Deadlock

Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, is the scene of Africa's longest-running territorial dispute.

The phosphate-rich territory was annexed by Morocco after Spanish settlers left in 1975. Polisario fought a guerrilla war against Morocco until the UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991.

Rabat now offers to grant it autonomy, while Polisario is demanding a referendum on full independence.

The talks between both sides have been deadlocked for years, and the last meeting in February 2010 ended without any movement in the dispute.

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