October 8, 2005

Morocco unveils secret mass graves of prisoners

RABAT (Reuters) - An official Moroccan human rights group
on Saturday unveiled the mass graves of 50 political prisoners
who died at secret detention centres in the 1970s.

The Equity and Reconciliation Commission (IER), set up by
royal decree to help discover what happened to the hundreds of
Moroccans arrested arbitrarily in the 1970s, said Moroccan
government authorities had helped it to find graves at three
former detention centres in the remote south.

"The recognition of the existence of the graves is a great
step which underscores the willingness of the authorities that
past abuses will not happen again," said IER senior official
Bouderka M'Barek.

Hundreds of Moroccans were arrested and tortured at the
hands of security agents while Morocco was engaged in a fight
over its centuries-old claims to Western Sahara, human rights
groups say.

Morocco invaded Western Sahara after colonial power Spain
pulled out in 1975, triggering a low-level guerrilla war
against the Polisario Front. Polisario seeks an independent
state in Western Sahara.

No official figures exist on how many people disappeared,
but rights groups say up to 600.

M'Barek, whose group also assists survivors and provides
compensation, told Reuters relatives of the 50 prisoners buried
at the recently found centres of M'Gouna, Tagoun and Agdaz,
some 500 km (300 miles) south of Rabat were being informed.

"Mass prayers by their families, friends and rights
activists will be organized at the sites of the mass graves in
the near future and then families will decide whether to move
the remains of their loved ones elsewhere or keep them there,"
he said.

The war ended in 1991, but Rabat is still struggling to
keep the territory under its control. Some of the security
officials behind the deaths are believed to be still alive.

A U.N. peacekeeping mission has been trying, so far without
success, to hold a referendum over the fate of the territory.

The country's rights record has improved since 43-year-old
king Mohammed ascended the throne.