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Spain falls short of apologising for 1920s use of chemical weapons in Morocco

Spanish soldiers are seen during the Rif War in 1922 [Military Archive of Ávila/Wikipedia]

Spain has said it will respond to the Amazigh World Assembly’s (AMA) request concerning the use of chemical weapons by King’s Alfonso XIII military during the Rif War from 1921-1926 but has fallen short on agreeing to apologise for its actions.

Spain’s Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis confirmed that the request had been made to Madrid and “as a result of the request of the King, the [AMA] were received in the Spanish embassy to submit their demands and also examine possible ways of cooperation.”

Speaking during a parliamentary meeting, Dastis answered questions from Joan Tarda, a member of the Esquerra Republicana, who has been pushing for the Spanish government to admit its use of chemical weapons in the Rif war.

However, though showing his willingness to hear the AMA’s demands, Dastis fell short of expressing his country’s readiness to apologise for its use of chemical warfare on civilians.

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The conflict lasted from 1920 to 1927 between Berber rebels led by Mohamed Ibn Abd Al-Karim Al-Khattabi against Spanish colonial forces in Morocco’s Rif region. Following the defeat of Spanish troops in the Annoual battle in July 1921, Spain reportedly used chemical and toxic gas indiscriminately against the Rif civilian population in order to inflict maximum damage. The chemical attacks were a violation of the 1919 Treaty of Versaille which prohibited the use of chemical weapons.

The AMA filed a request calling on Spanish authorities to officially apologise to the Rif people and to compensate the victims and families for the tragedy. A similar request by AMA was last made in 2015 to King Felipe VI.

The Moroccan Centre for Common Memory, Democracy and Peace echoed calls by AMA and called on the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs to honour previous pledges to respond to the requests of Moroccan civil society organisations calling on Spain to recognise its culpability.

As a result of the chemical warfare, many of those in the Rif have suffered the highest rates of cancer than in any other region in Morocco with 80 per cent of cases of larynx cancer in Morocco found in the Rif region.

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