Amateur footage and eyewitness account of Western Sahara violence

 Violent clashes broke out yet again on Monday in Laayoun, the largest city of the Western Sahara, a desert region disputed between the Kingdom of Morocca and the Polisario Front rebel group, a Sahrawi nationalist movement.



Violent clashes broke out yet again on Monday in Laayoun, the largest city of the Western Sahara, a disputed desert region claimed by the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front rebel group, a Sahrawi nationalist movement.


Governmental sources say six police were killed and over 60 injured in the clashes, while only four civilians were injured and one killed ‘in a road accident’. However, the Polisario Front says there were 11 killed and 732 injured among the protesters.


Western Sahara was annexed by Morocco after Spanish settlers withdrew in 1975. But the Polisario Front fought the Moroccan presence until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991.The Polisario Front wants a UN-organised self-determination referendum, with independence as one of the options. Morocco has so far rejected any proposal that goes beyond greater autonomy. UN-brokered peace talks are currently being held in New York City.


No professional media footage of the clashes exist because media crews are banned from entering the territory. Here is a selection of amateur images sent by our Observers. Many thanks to Naoufal Chaara, Haiba Elhairech et Hammoudi Grid in Morocco for their help with this article.





A flag displayed by Sahrawis in the camp to protest their condition. Posted on Facebook by  Lyali Sanadi.

"After the King gave his speech, we expected Moroccan forces to act up"

Fatma Mbarki, 24, is Sahrawi. She lives in Laayoun.

The clashes began in refugee camps situated some 20 km east of Laayoun, then spread to the city centre. The camp, home 12,000 people, had been set up by Sahrawis to protest the discrimination they say they are victims of in comparison to Arabic Muslim citizens. It was both a social and economic symbol, to denounce the marginalisation, poverty and unemployment faced by many Sahrawis in Morocco. It also aimed at reminding Moroccan authorities of our people’s Bedouin roots. Needless to say, the camp was under tight surveillance from police.

After the King [Mohamed VI] gave his speech on Saturday [to commemorate the 35 years of the "green march" led by Hassan II against the Spaniards in Western Sahara], we expected Moroccan forces to act up. This isn’t the first time this kind of incident happens in Laayoun [violent riots broke out in 1999 and 2005].

On Sunday evening at around 8pm, police forces circled the camp, barring anyone from entering or exiting it. People were angry because they could no longer bring food to their relatives inside, and several skirmishes broke out.

The following day, a police helicopter flew over the camp, warning residents they had six hours to leave the premises. They raided the camp several hours later, using tear gas and water cannons. They also set fire to several tents.

The citizens of Laayoun flew into a rage when they heard about the raid. Hundreds of protesters marched out to the streets carrying Polisario flags that they hung in front of every government building, instead of the Moroccan flag. The protests spread to every neighbourhood in the city, and went on until police intervened. The repression was very violent. The homes of many Sahrawis were raided and vandalised.”

Post written with Sarra Grira, FRANCE 24 journalist.