RABAT - Morocco said Wednesday it has ordered what it said are 19 foreign journalists -- 15 Spaniards and four Swedes -- to leave Laayoune, the main city of Western Sahara, claiming they had gone there under false pretexts.
Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975, in a move never recognised by the international community, and the interior ministry said the journalists had traveled there to cover the commemorations of deadly disturbances in 2010.
"These journalists entered national territory without revealing their true identities, pretending to be on holiday in the kingdom," the interior ministry said.
A source at the communications ministry said no request had been received for permission to report from Western Sahara, adding that journalists not accredited in the kingdom are required to take the appropriate steps to do so.
The interior ministry said it did not know whether the 19 people, who were not identified, had left the country or not.
It said their aim was to cover commemorations of the deadly events of November 8, 2010, when Moroccan authorities dismantled a camp in Gdim Izik inhabited by around 10,000 Sahrawi dissidents.
The move to break up the camp degenerated into clashes around the camp and in Laayoune, where a number of government offices and businesses were sacked and burned.
At least 13 people died, including 11 members of the security forces, the interior ministry said.
Twenty-three Sahrawis, accused of belonging to militias, were arrested and were to have gone on trial last month, but the case has been postponed indefinitely.
UN peace envoy for the Western Sahara Christopher Ross was in Algeria on Wednesday, the latest leg of a trip that has already taken him to Morocco.
The pro-independence Polisario Front, supported by Algeria, controls a small part of the desert interior and has bases over the border around Tindouf.
The UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991, but a settlement of the conflict remains elusive.