MADRID — Spain sought an urgent explanation Friday for a Moroccan security force raid against a camp settlement in Western Sahara that sparked clashes leaving at least 12 people dead.
Moroccan forces launched a dawn raid with water cannon Monday to break up the camp housing 12,000 people outside the main town of Laayoune in the former Spanish colony annexed by Rabat in 1975.
One Spanish citizen was among the dead.
"Spain believes the circumstances of these events should be clarified urgently, and this is what we relayed to the Moroccan government," Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez told a news conference.
Spain also wanted to know what happened to a Spanish victim, Baby Hamadi Buyema, she said. Speaking in Alicante, his brother Lehmad Hamday Buyema said Moroccan police "brutally murdered" him in a car collision.
Moroccan officials say the toll is 12 dead, including 10 from their security forces.
But the Polisario Front, which opposes Moroccan rule in Western Sahara, said Moroccan forces killed dozens of people and wounded more than 4,500 while clearing the camp.
The foreign minister in a self-appointed government for the territory told AFP in neighbouring Algeria this week that Morocco's forces, backed by helicopters, left hundreds of wounded in the operation.
The camp was set up four weeks ago outside Laayoune, the main town in the Western Sahara, apparently because of deteriorating living conditions. Locals said it was entirely dismantled in the raid.
Spain's foreign minister said her country regretted the loss of human life and she expressed the solidarity of the Spanish people with the victims and their relatives.
"The government rejects violence as a way of resolving any kind of conflict and we call on the parties to return to the path of dialogue and we urge both parties to re-establish normality in the zone," she said.
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 referendum on self-determination, with independence as one of the options. Morocco has so far rejected any proposal that goes beyond greater autonomy.
The third round of informal talks between the Polisario Front and Morocco on Western Sahara's future held near New York ended Tuesday with both sides only agreeing to meet again in December.
"This is a conflict that has gone on too long and it is imperative that we reach a solution as soon as possible," Jiminez said, calling for a long-lasting resolution within the framework of the United Nations.
The minister also told private television Telecinco that she had asked the Moroccan authorities to allow journalists to do their job so that people could understand what was happening there.
Three journalists from the private Spanish radio Cadena Ser who managed to reach Laayoune were expelled Friday on a plane to the Canary Islands, said an AFP photographer aboard.
Nine Spanish journalists from various media trying to fly from the Canary Islands to Laayoune were refused permission to leave the plane after they landed. The plane then returned to the Canary Islands after picking up the expelled Cadena Ser journalists.
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