Spain concerned over W. Sahara arrests: Zapatero

30th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Spain is concerned over the weekend arrests and maltreatment by Moroccan police of 11 Spanish pro-independence activists in the Western Sahara, Prime Minister Jose Luiz Rodriguez Zapatero said on Monday.

"The government and foreign ministry have expressed their concern," Zapatero said on the sidelines of an official visit to China.

Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1975, is at the centre of conflict between the separatist Algerian-backed Polisario Front and Rabat, which is willing to accord broad autonomy, but not independence.

Moroccan police arrested 11 activists from the SaharAcciones association, which supports Polisario, on Saturday evening in Laayoune, the chief town of Western Sahara.

The Spaniards were making an attempted protest in favour of the Sahrawi people and respecting human rights.

The Canary Islands-based SaharAcciones accused Moroccan police of "savagely attacking" the group, before arresting them and driving them to the police station.

It also alleged that two members suffered injuries to their heads and bodies from "kicks and punches."

One of the activists sported a pair of black eyes on arrival in Tenerife on Monday, an AFP photographer said.

The activist said she had been beaten by plainclothes Moroccan police.

Spain's foreign ministry confirmed the arrests on Sunday and said the 11 were detained for several hours at a Laayoune police station.

It also confirmed that two members of the group needed medical attention for injuries, but did not state the cause of the injuries.

In a televised press conference earlier on Monday, Zapatero had expressed his concern over the arrests and said the government was awaiting "explanations and adequate information" from Rabat.

However, he added, "it is an essential principle of foreign policy to maintain a good relationship with neighbouring countries like Morocco."

The incident comes amid tensions between Morocco and Spain, notably over the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in northern Morocco.

Moroccan media has reported several border incidents this summer involving Spanish police and Moroccan nationals.

The interior ministers from the two countries met in Rabat on August 23 and agreed to step up security cooperation.

© 2010 AFP

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