Morocco jails 24 over Western Sahara clash in 2010

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 17, 2013 3:58 PM

RABAT (Reuters) - A Moroccan military court on Sunday jailed 24 defendants accused of killing members of the security forces who stormed a protest camp in the disputed Western Sahara in 2010, state news agency MAP said.

The Rabat court jailed eight of the 24 for life and four dependents received 30-year prison terms. Another eight were given 25 years and two others were handed 20-year sentences.

Two of the accused who received the lightest sentences, two years in jail, have already served their terms in custody. One defendant was tried in absentia and given a life sentence.

Moroccan authorities say 13 people were killed - including 10 security officers, a firefighter and two civilians - and dozens injured on November 8, 2010 when authorities dismantled a camp where thousands of Western Saharans, known as Sahrawis, were living.

The camp had been set up in Gdeim Izik, near the Western Sahara capital Laayoune, to protest against unemployment and the Moroccan government which annexed the territory in 1975, when former colonial power Spain withdrew.

The camp was stormed in the early hours of the morning with helicopters and forces using water cannon to disperse its occupants but clashes then erupted with protesters.

"We are going to the cassation court to cancel this verdict," defense lawyer Mohamed Fadel Al-Layly told Reuters, adding the military court had declined the defense team's request for a medical examination after "our clients alleged torture" while in custody.

Protests have been held outside the court during the politically charged trial, which began in early February. In a statement earlier this month, Amnesty International said the trial of civilians before a military court did not meet internationally recognized standards for a fair trial.

Western Sahara is a sparsely populated tract of desert about the size of Britain, with rich fishing grounds off its coast and reserves of phosphates. Morocco says the territory should come under its sovereignty, while the exiled Polisario Front says Western Sahara is an independent state.

(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Jason Webb)