A Jan. 23 profile in the New York Times put a rare spotlight on the ongoing occupation camp established by Berber villagers at Mount Alebban, 5,000 feet high in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, to protest the operations of the Imiter Mettalurgic Mining Company—whose principal owner is the North African nation's King Mohammed VI. The occupation was first launched in 1996, but broken up by the authorities. It was revived in the summer of 2011, after students from the local village of Imider, who were used to getting seasonal jobs at the mine, were turned down. That led the villagers—even those with jobs at the complex—to again establish a permanent encampment blocking access to the site of Africa's most productive silver mine. A key grievance is the mine's use of local water sources, which is making agriculture in the arid region increasingly untenable. Protesters closed a pipe valve, cutting off the water supply to the mine. Since then, the mine's output has plummeted—40% in 2012 and a further 30% in 2013. But Imider farmers say their long-drying wells are starting to replenish, and their shriveled orchards are again starting to bear fruit.
The Justice and Human Rights Commission of Morocco's parliament on Jan. 9 announced a proposal to amend Article 475 of the penal code, which allows rapists to avoid charges if they marry their victims. This practice is currently encouraged in countries such as Morocco and India, where the loss of a woman's virginity out of wedlock is said to bring shame upon the family. Article 475, translated from French, reads, "When a minor removed or diverted married her captor, the latter can not be prosecuted on the complaint of persons entitled to apply for annulment of marriage and can not be sentenced until after the cancellation of marriage has been pronounced." The proposal will be put to a vote by Parliament.
The Los Angeles Times reported June 19, citing anonymous sources, that "CIA operatives and US special operations troops have been secretly training Syrian rebels with anti-tank and antiaircraft weapons since late last year, months before President Obama approved plans to begin directly arming them, according to US officials and rebel commanders." The training is supposedly taking place at bases in Jordan and Turkey. The "directly military aid" that the US has now openly pledged to the Syrian rebels may also be reaching them, as BBC News quotes Free Syrian Army spokesman Louay Meqdad boasting of having received new weapons shipments that "we believe will change the course of the battle on the ground." However, he denied the new weapons came from the US, implying other powers are also arming the FSA. The Friends of Syria group is scheduled to meet in Qatar next week, to discuss coordinating aid to the rebels. But in Russia, Vladimir Putin said he feared a "political void" in Syria would be filled by "terrorist organizations."
Some 1,400 US soldiers, sailors and Marines who arrived in Morocco this week for the "African Lion 2013" joint maneuvers with the kingdom's armed forces are to be redeployed after Rabat cancelled the exercizes at the last minute. The move was apparenly taken in retaliation for the Obama administration's support for an initiative to broaden the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in Morocco-occupied Western Sahara, MINURSO, to include human rights monitoring. "It is an attack on the national sovereignty of Morocco and will have negative consequences on the stability of the whole region," said Mustapha Khalfi, Rabat's communications minister. (BBC News, AFP, Military Times, April 17)
Under an agreement signed Jan. 30 in the port of Agadir, 1,400 US Marines and 900 Moroccan soldiers will join in April on the North African country's Atlantic coast for a training exercise dubbed "African Lion." The joint forces will land more than 200 vehicles at Agadir and advance with weapons and equipment 300 kilometers before returning to the starting point where they will disassemble the equipment for re-embarkation within 24 hours. The forces will deploy long-range missiles that can reach targets more than 60 kilometers away accurately—a first for an exercise involving Morocco.
A Rabat military court on Feb. 17 handed prison sentences, including eight life terms, to a group of 24 Sahrawis accused of killing members of the security forces in Morocco-occupied Western Sahara in 2010. Four received 30-year terms, while a 25th defendant was tried in absentia and given a life sentence. The charges, including "forming criminal gangs, and violence against the security forces leading to deaths and the mutilation of corpses," stemmed from violence surrounding the November 2010 eviciton of a protest encampment at Gdim Izik outside Laayoune, capital of the occupied territory. Amnesty International condemned the trial as "flawed from the outset," and called for an investigation of claims that incriminating statements had been made under torture. (Reuters, Al Jazeera, Feb. 17)