RABAT - The death toll from clashes after
a soccer match in Western Sahara on Sunday has reached seven,
Morocco's MAP official news agency reported on Tuesday, in the
desert territory's worst bout of violence since November.
A resident in Dakhla, 1,800 km (1,100 miles) south of Rabat
and the site of the match, told Reuters clashes between one
group of residents of Sahrawi origin and another of Moroccan
origin continued until early on Tuesday.
Another resident said the clashes spread through the
Atlantic coast town despite police efforts to disperse crowds
with teargas, and that troops had been deployed in two
neighbourhoods to restore order.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in
1975, and since then it has been the subject of a dispute
between the Moroccan government and the Polisario Front, an
independence movement backed by neighbouring Algeria.
"We have been living in fear since Sunday... the
population, whether it is Sahrawi or Moroccan, is caught in the
middle. We can't go out," the first resident, who asked to be
identified as Hassan, said by telephone from Dakhla.
The second, Khaled Aniba, said several four-wheel-drive
vehicles carrying military personnel had deployed to pacify two
Dakhla neighbourhoods, home to the two groups.
"The anti-riot police fired teargas canisters yesterday to
end the clashes between the two sides, but this did not prevent
some of them from reaching other parts of the city and attacking
anyone who looked like their enemy," Aniba said.
"People have had their cars and shops burned. I've seen six
charred cars," he added.
Moroccan officials said the clashes broke out when
supporters leaving the stadium started throwing stones at the
opposing team's fans.
They said opportunistic criminals then joined in, attacking
passers-by with sticks and knives. Local authorities had
arrested five people suspected of involvement in the clashes,
A resident, who asked not to be named, said the fighting
started when a group of Moroccans attacked a young Sahrawi
during the game.
"When it degenerated into clashes between Sahrawis and
Moroccans, the police did not intervene... there is a protest
now in the city by residents who demand that security be
restored," said the resident.
Western Sahara is a sparsely populated tract of desert about
the size of Britain. Morocco says the territory should come
under its sovereignty, while the exiled Polisario Front says it
is an independent state.
The Polisario Front waged a guerrilla war against Moroccan
forces until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991.
Since then, several rounds of talks have failed to produce a
deal on Western Sahara's status.
The latest clashes were the deadliest in the territory since
November, when Moroccan authorities said 11 security officials
were among 13 people who died in violence in the main city,
That violence erupted after Moroccan security forces
dismantled a protest camp where thousands of residents had
gathered to demand better living conditions.
In February, MAP reported that two Moroccans were killed in
Dakhla after clashes with Sahrawis during a music festival.
"The situation in Dakhla has remained very tense since then... the football match was the straw that broke the camel's back,"
said a local official on condition of anonymity.
The match was between Western Sahara side Mouloudia Dakhla
and Chabab Mohammadia, a team from a city near Casablanca in
Morocco. An official source in Western Sahara told Reuters two
security officials were among the seven killed.
MAP said three of the victims were killed when they were run
over by "ex-convicts aboard a four-wheel-drive vehicle".
Moroccan Communication Minister Khalid Naciri likened the
violence to "hooliganism that can happen anywhere around the
world" but did not dismiss possible political motivations.
"Some people may be seeking to take advantage of these riots
to spread instability," Naciri told Reuters by telephone. He
declined to comment on whether troops had been deployed.
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