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Saturday, 19 January, 2002, 21:35 GMT
Morocco bans historical conference
Clashes between police and Berbers in Algeria
Algeria's Berbers are also fighting for greater recognition
David Bamford

The Moroccan authorities have stepped in to block a conference being organised by a campaign group which alleges that the Spanish army used toxic gas to quell a Berber uprising in the 1920s.

The group, calling itself the Association for the Defence of Victims of the Rif War, says that more than 70 years on, the effects of the toxic gas are still being felt.

It says a conference to discuss the issue with international experts, due to take place at Al Hoceima in northern Morocco on 25 January, has been banned by the authorities, without explanation.

The Berber rebellion in the Rif mountains of northern Morocco is one of the most celebrated events in modern North African history.

Historical grievances

In July 1921, the Berber chieftan Abdulkrim gathered together a band of warriors armed with nothing but flintlock rifles.

They inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Spanish army - which at that time occupied northern Morocco.

Nearly half of the 26,000 soldiers were massacred and it took five years before the Spanish, reinforced by French troops, regained control.

Since Moroccan independence in the late 1950s, stories have emerged out of the Rif mountains about how Spain allegedly used German-manufactured toxic gas in their efforts to put down the Berber rebellion.

Berber campaigners say the details of this crime against humanity have been suppressed, not only by Spain but also the Moroccan monarchy, with which the Berber tribes in the Rif have separate historical grievances.

According to the Association for the Defence of Victims of the Rif War, many people in the mountains continue to die of cancer - more than 60 per cent of the total for the whole country - and they believe toxicity is to blame.

It is the second time in two years the group has been prevented from holding a conference on the issue.

The murky truth of the Rif war will apparently stay that way, at least for now.

See also:

04 Oct 01 | Middle East
Algeria's Berbers get language rights
20 Aug 01 | Middle East
Berbers reclaim place in history
13 Aug 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Can the Berber revolt survive?
19 Jun 01 | Middle East
Rising tide of Berber unrest
01 May 01 | Middle East
Berbers battle for recognition
28 Jun 98 | Middle East
The Berbers: fighting on two fronts
27 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Morocco
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