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Sahrawi activists petition UN over detention by Morocco

The conflict in Western Sahara - a vast desert territory rich in phosphates - has pitted Morocco against the Polisario Front for decades   -  
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Eighteen Sahrawi independence fighters, imprisoned in Morocco for the murder of members of the police force in 2010 in the case known as Gdeim Izik, have filed a complaint against the kingdom to the UN for "arbitrary detention", said Friday a support group.

The case is named after the camp where eleven Moroccan policemen and gendarmes were killed in November 2010 near Laayoune, the capital of Western Sahara administered by Rabat since the end of the Spanish colonization.

"The prisoners of Gdeim Izik file a complaint against Morocco to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the United Nations alleging acts of torture and political repression," said a statement from the Geneva-based support group for the protection and promotion of human rights in Western Sahara.

The group adds that "Sahrawis who are campaigning for self-determination are subjected to discriminatory practices and have been sentenced to long prison terms on the basis of confessions tainted by torture.

These pro-independence activists are among a group of 23 Sahrawis sentenced to sentences ranging from two years to life in prison in the Gdeim Izik case.

In early June, four complaints were filed against Morocco before the UN Committee against Torture, concerning four Sahrawi activists, including three convicted in the case of Gdeim Izik "severely tortured", had announced NGOs.

The coordination of the families of the victims of the Gdeim Izik camp denounced in a statement "a dangerous attempt to distort the facts, turning criminals into victims.

The conflict in Western Sahara - a vast desert territory rich in phosphates and fish-filled waters - has pitted Morocco against the Sahrawi independence fighters of the Polisario Front, supported by Algeria, for decades.

While Rabat advocates an autonomous status under Moroccan sovereignty, the Polisario is calling for a referendum on self-determination, which was provided for by the United Nations when a cease-fire was signed in 1991, but which has never materialized.

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