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Morocco, Spain Discuss Future of Expelled Western Sahara Activist

Morocco and Spain are trying to figure out what to do with a leading campaigner for independence in Western Sahara. She was expelled from Morocco to the Spanish-ruled Canary Islands where doctors say she is on a hunger strike.

Morocco and Spain are trying to figure out what to do with a leading campaigner for independence in Western Sahara.  She was expelled from Morocco to the Spanish-ruled Canary Islands where doctors say she is on a hunger strike. 

Aminatou Haidar returned to the disputed territory of Western Sahara last month after winning the 2009 Civil Courage Prize for her peaceful resistance to Moroccan rule.

But when she refused to declare Moroccan citizenship on her immigration form, Moroccan authorities took her passport and sent to the Spanish-ruled Canary Islands where she has been sleeping at the airport and, supporters say, living on only sugared water.

Publicity surrounding Haidar's hunger strike has brought pressure on Spain to resolve the dispute.  But she has refused the offer of Spanish citizenship.  And a Spanish-negotiated plan for her return Saturday fell apart when Morocco rescinded landing rights at the last minute.

Marselha Goncalves-Margerin spent two nights last week sleeping with Haidar on mattresses near airport vending machines.

"Her kidneys also have started suffering," said Marselha Goncalves-Margerin. "She has been drinking water until the weekend, but lately she has been basically having a hard time even to drink water.  It prompts her to vomit."

Goncalves-Margerin is Advocacy Director for the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, which named Haidar its 2008 Human Rights Laureate. 

"If Morocco really is the forward country in North Africa that really praises human rights, I think this is the time for them to show that," she said.

She says the United States and the European Union must do more, quickly, to force Spain and Morocco to act.

The Chairman of Morocco's Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs says Haidar is part of a plan to sow confusion about negotiations to resolve the status of the disputed territory.

Morocco took control of the coastal region shortly after the end of Spanish colonialism in 1975.  But ethnic Saharawi in the Polisario movement fought for independence with Algerian support.  And while a 1991 ceasefire ended the war, it has not resolved Western Sahara's status.

Advisory Council Chairman Khalihenna Ould Errachid told the private television network Medi 1 SAT that Haidar denying her Moroccan citizenship comes at a time when Polisario and Algeria have concluded that international mediation no longer supports a separate state for Western Sahara.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Taib Fassi-Fihri says Haidar is "not a human rights activist, but a Polisario agent" whose "propaganda only aims at fueling tension" to block resolution of the conflict through U.N. mediation.

Those efforts have made little headway, with Morocco offering limited self rule and Polisario holding out for a referendum that includes the option of complete independence. 
 

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