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Friday, 10 March, 2000, 15:33 GMT
Morocco dismisses Western Sahara unrest
Western Sahara
Western Sahara's status remains in limbo
The authorities in Morocco have dismissed reports of unrest in the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

A representative of the Polisario Front, which campaigns for the independence of Western Sahara, said there was a heavy security presence in the capital Laayoune, after students demonstrated on Saturday.

He said the Moroccan army and police had "brutally dispersed" hundreds of demonstrators demanding the release of three activists arrested last year on charges of spying for the Polisario.

"Exaggeration and propaganda"

An official from the Moroccan communications ministry described the incident as brief, and accused Polisario of exaggeration and propaganda.

"There has been no curfew and reporters are welcome to witness the situation on the ground," he added.

A western diplomat in Laayoune told Reuters that the Moroccan authorities had deployed extra troops in the capital after the week-end incidents.

The UN has maintained a strange and systematic silence

Ahmed Boukhari, Polisario UN representative
He said the disturbance on Saturday had lasted about 20 minutes, with school children throwing stones at shops, but he said the situation was now calm.

The exchange between the two sides came as the United Nations Security Council prepared for a closed-door session on the disputed territory on Friday.

Polisario's UN envoy, Ahmed Boukhari, said on Thursday that some protesters and Moroccan security forces had been injured, while the UN presence in the territory had so far maintained what he called "a strange and systematic silence" about those events. He said he had sent a letter to the Security Council to that effect.

Western Sahara - A Brief History
1884 Territory colonised by Spain
1956 Morocco claims sovereignty
1973 Polisario Front set up to fight for independence
1990 UN undertakes to organise referendum
The UN has been trying for more than eight years to organise a referendum to decide whether the disputed territory should be incorporated into Morocco, or become independent as desired by Polisario.

The referendum has repeatedly been delayed because of disagreements between the two sides over who is eligible to vote.

A UN source said the Security Council consultations, including a briefing by UN assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping Hedi Annabi of Tunisia, was requested by Namibia.

In addition to trying to organise a vote, the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), comprising about 300 military observers, troops and civilian police, has been monitoring a cease-fire between Morocco and Polisario since September 1991.

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08 Dec 99 | Americas
New delay in Western Sahara vote
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