Morocco says border guards kill 6 African migrantsThu Oct 6, 2005 7:05 PM BST
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-defence. 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.
SPANISH POLICE CLEARED
The news came after Spanish Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso told a parliamentary committe 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 week.
"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 neighbour 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?"