Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Western Sahara: Spanish News Agency admits Publishing 4-year-old Gaza Photos Falsely Identifying Victims as Coming from W. Sahara

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat on Saturday condemned Spanish news agency EFE's "unacceptable and unfounded" publication last week of 4-year-old photos of Palestinian infants injured in Gaza which were falsely identified as photos of victims of Monday's unrest in Laayoune, in Moroccan Western Sahara. The false photos were printed in the major Spanish newspapers El Pais and El Mundo prior to a pro-Polisario demonstration this past weekend in Madrid.

"I saw the EFE's pictures; they well and truly come from the Gaza Strip and not Laayoune," said Erekat, who denounced the photos as "disinformation" to mislead international public opinion and distort Morocco's record. He reaffirmed Palestinian support for Morocco's efforts to settle the Western Sahara conflict through dialogue and peaceful means, and condemned EFE's failure to respect journalistic ethics.

EFE admitted the error on Friday, saying it purchased the photos from activists at a pro-Polisario website. The photos showed the Gaza infants with their heads bandaged in a hospital. The caption in El Pais said: "Two injured Saharan children are treated at a hospital in Laayoune."

The Polisario Front and its supporters have made a number of unsubstantiated allegations over the past week to cover up serious violence committed by their backers in Laayoune.

Last Monday, Moroccan authorities attempted to peacefully disperse a protest in Laayoune that began legitimately but was taken over by pro-Polisario militants. 70 Moroccan police were injured and 10 police killed when they moved in with non-lethal gear, no weapons, and were attacked by militants with knives, bottled gas canisters, and Molotov cocktails. This account was supported by independent eyewitnesses.

After examining the protest site, the UN Secretary-General's representative Hany Abdel-Aziz, head of MINURSO, the UN presence in Western Sahara, told French daily Le Monde, "I saw no trace of bullet cartridges." Instead, he was "amazed by the number of butane gas bottles" which militants used to set fires.

Most of the demonstrators left the camps when authorities asked and escaped serious harm—far from the thousands of civilian casualties the Polisario claimed.

"The Polisario continues to threaten war if it doesn't get its way in the Western Sahara," said Robert Holley, Executive Director, Moroccan American Center for Policy. "The tragic events in Laayoune are only one example of how its supporters are trying to destabilize the region and derail prospects for a compromise solution to the Western Sahara conflict. The real needs of the Sahrawi people, especially thousands of refugees warehoused in camps in Algeria, are not being served. It is time to give realistic compromise for peace a chance."

Source: Moroccan American Center for Policy