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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 March, 2005, 15:44 GMT
Moroccans rally for war prisoners
By Pascale Harter
BBC News, Rabat

Moroccan protesters call for the release of prisoners in Algeria
Much of Western Sahara has been under Moroccan control since 1976
Tens of thousands of Moroccans have joined a demonstration in the capital, Rabat, calling for the release of prisoners of war held in Algeria.

"Shout my brother, shout," chanted the demonstrators, "for this injustice will not be tolerated."

Some walked holding up black and white photos of their husbands or fathers.

They are among more than 400 Moroccan soldiers being held by the Polisario Front, backed by Algeria.

They were captured during the war for control of Western Sahara after Spain pulled out of the desert territory in 1975.

Disputed territory

They are the longest serving prisoners of war in the world.

But Hassan Anrani, who was released by the Polisario after 24 years, says the demonstration is not just about the prisoners.

Map showing location of Western Sahara

"This demonstration has double objectives," he said.

"First, to press international opinions to make an impression on the Polisario and Algeria to liberate all the others," he added.

"The second objective is to make it international opinion that the Sahara was Moroccan and is still Moroccan and remains Moroccan."

But after 30 years of Moroccan control, international opinion is still divided. The United Nations views Western Sahara as a disputed territory.

Several members of the African Union recognise its independence.

And after almost three decades of wrangling between Morocco and Algeria over the issue, Western Sahara remains the single biggest obstacle to North African co-operation.

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