October 6, 2005

Morocco says border guards kill 6 African migrants

By Lamine Ghanmi and Emma Ross-Thomas

RABAT/MELILLA (Reuters) - Moroccan troops, attempting to
prevent illegal immigrants from reaching a Spanish enclave,
killed six Africans in clashes in northern Morocco on Wednesday
night, a local government official said on Thursday.

Spanish police said earlier a joint operation between
Spanish and Moroccan police and troops had repelled more than
500 migrants trying to cross into Spain's North African outpost
of Melilla before dawn.

Just one man had entered the enclave in the latest mass
storming of Europe's southernmost border, they said.

"The assault of rare violence has forced security forces to
respond in self-defense. Some 290 migrants were arrested and
six among the assailants were dead," Nador province governor
Abdellah Bendhiba said in a statement carried by state news
agency MAP.

Bendhiba said 400 migrants stormed troop surveillance posts
in Gourougou forest in the north of the country in the night
between Wednesday and Thursday.

Gourougou forest, where hundreds of migrants often hide
before trying to reach Spain's Ceuta and Melilla enclaves in
Morocco, lies on the outskirts of Nador, about 500 km (300
miles) north of Rabat.

Spanish human rights group Asociacion Pro-Derechos Humanos
said there had been more deaths than Morocco said and hundreds
had been injured.

"There are not six, there are quite a few more," Secretary
Jose Alonso told Reuters, citing Moroccan medical sources.


The news came after Spanish Interior Minister Jose Antonio
Alonso told a parliamentary committee that Spanish police had
not been to blame for the deaths of five migrants trying to
enter Spain's other outpost Ceuta in a 600-strong group last

"It can be confirmed that Civil Guard (police) forces ...
did not fire any live rounds with any of the weapons they were
equipped with," said Alonso, quoting from a police report.

"They could not have caused the firearms wounds on the
bodies found at the site," the report added.

Two bodies were found on the Spanish side of the fence with
bullet wounds, Spanish officials said. Three more bodies were
found on the Moroccan side and they were also shot, according
to news reports.

Alonso limited his testimony to exonerating Spanish police
and did not blame anyone for last week's deaths.

He said Spanish authorities investigated the two deaths on
the Spanish side of the border while Moroccan authorities were
probing the deaths on their side.

Alonso also said that Spain would send 70 African migrants
who had entered via Morocco back to its neighbor as part of the
reactivation of a deal signed with Morocco in 1992 but hardly
ever used.

The move is a radical change in policy. In recent years,
African migrants from countries with which Spain does not have
repatriation agreements have simply been set free in Spain with
an expulsion order which cannot be enforced.

In recent weeks, hundreds of poor Africans desperate to
reach wealthy Europe have staged mass assaults on the borders
of Ceuta and Melilla, using home-made ladders.

Spain and Morocco have responded by reinforcing their
security forces on both sides of the border.

Migrants who entered Melilla in recent days were horrified
by the prospect they could be sent back to Morocco.

"There are people who have been on the road five years.
They have left their villages, they have nothing," 20-year-old
Malian Tiefing Keta said. "If the government does that, what
are we going to do?"

(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in Madrid)