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Morocco Blasts Critical Human Rights Report on Western Sahara

November 14, 1995

PARIS (AP) _ Morocco lashed back Tuesday at allegations it is interfering with a U.N.-led effort to register voters for an independence referendum in the disputed Western Sahara in northwest Africa.

A government human rights committee acknowledged Morocco needs to improve its human rights record, but it denied allegations the government of King Hassan II was meddling in the referendum or illegally detaining opponents.

``We can’t accept being insulted all the time,″ said Mahjoubi Aherdan, a former defense minister and a member of the 37-member Consultative Committee on Human Rights. The committee set up by the government in 1990 to review allegations of rights violations.

Human Rights Watch, based in New York, reported last month that Moroccan authorities were ``interfering with the fairness″ of the U.N.-led effort to register voters in the mineral-rich Western Sahara, claimed by both Morocco and the separatist Polisario movement.

It said Moroccan security forces prevented some people from registering, and had intimidated tribal leaders charged with identifying eligible voters, ``telling them how they should rule in certain cases.″

The report also accused the Polisario, which fought Morocco from Spain’s 1976 pullout until 1990, of detaining 2,000 Moroccan prisoners of war under harsh conditions that include ``insufficient food and inadequate medical treatment.″

Aherdan accused the Polisario of violations in the voter identification process, in which each applicant is judged by a panel of tribal sheiks and officials from both sides. U.N. officials are to have the final say.

The Human Rights Watch report cited cases in which sheiks on the Moroccan side stopped showing up to identification meetings after refusing to vouch for some applicants.

On other issues, committee head Mohamed Mikou said the panel had forced the firing of prison officials linked to the death of a prisoner in a Moroccan jail this year. In addition, more than 400 prisoners, many considered political detainees, were freed last year, and the committee is considering the cases of about 20 others.

Morocco has kept Abd Assalam Yasine, leader of the country’s leading Muslim fundamentalist organization, under house arrest since 1990 for questioning the king’s religious authority.

Elkhyari says Yasine’s case is making its way through the courts.

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