Spain says W. Sahara arrests affair is 'closed': government

31st August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Spain's government on Tuesday said that the case of 14 Spanish pro-independence activists arrested in the disputed Western Sahara was "closed" after an explanation from Morocco.

"The Moroccan authorities have given us explanations and we consider that with these the affair is closed," deputy foreign minister Juan Pablo de Laiglesia said on the public radio station RNE.

On Monday, Prime Minister Jose Luiz Rodriguez Zapatero said the government and foreign ministry "have expressed their concern" after the weekend arrests in the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco.

Those arrested on Saturday night and beaten up, by their own account, were activists from the SaharAcciones association based in the Canary Islands, which supports separatists in the Western Sahara.

Western Sahara, annexed after Spain withdrew 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.

The Moroccan police arrested the Spanish activists on Saturday evening in Laayoune, the chief town of Western Sahara.

Moroccan government spokesman Khalid Naciri said in a statement published Tuesday that the blame for the events in Laayoune fell on "these provocative tourists", rather than the Moroccan government.

"The Moroccan government cannot take responsibility for what happened in Laayoune, but that must be assumed by these provocative tourists," he told the daily Bayane Al Yaom, run by the governing coalition.

"The Moroccan police only intervened to protect these provocative people who were waving Polisario flags in Laayoune," Naciri added.

SaharAcciones has 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."

De Laiglesia told RNE that the activists had "taken part in an illegal, unauthorised demonstration, during which these altercations took place. We have no details to back up the views of the activists."

"The first thing the Moroccan police did was to accompany the two most badly hurt activists to hospital before taking them to give evidence at the police station," the Spanish minister added.

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.

When Zapatero expressed his concern over the arrests, he said the Spanish 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 have 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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