Rabat – Rival protests were held on Friday outside a military tribunal in the Moroccan capital where 24 Sahrawis accused of killing members of the security forces in the Western Sahara in 2010 are being tried.
The politically charged trial, which is being attended by a number of independent foreign observers, has been repeatedly delayed, with the defendants held in custody for more than two years.
The authorities say 11 people died in the clashes, among them members of the security forces, which broke out as the army moved to dismantle the Gdim Izik camp where thousands of local Sahrawis were living in November 2010.
The Sahrawis arrested during the unrest are accused of violence against the security forces, of pre-meditated killing and of mutilating the victims’ bodies.
Some 100 people demonstrated outside the court in Rabat on Friday, among them families of the victims, pro-Saharwi activists and relatives of the accused, many of whom were allowed to attend the trial, an AFP journalist said.
Some relatives of the victims remained outside the tribunal, waving banners that read: “We know who the killers are, so where is justice?”
Ahead of the trial, observers and rights groups expressed concern over allegations the defendants were tortured in custody, about the case being tried by a military court, and about the possible death penalty facing the accused, if convicted.
At dawn on 8 November 2010, Moroccan security forces moved to dismantle the Western Sahara camp, near the territory’s main city of Laayoune, which thousands of Sahrawis had set up in protest over their living conditions.
The intervention sparked clashes that spread to nearby Laayoune, where businesses and public buildings were looted and torched.
The authorities said 11 were killed in the unrest, while the Algeria-based Polisario Front separatists said dozens of people lost their lives.
Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975, in a move never recognized by the international community.
The Polisario Front launched its struggle for independence even before the annexation, with the resulting war lasting until 1991 when the UN brokered a ceasefire, but a settlement of the conflict still remains elusive.