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Western Sahara Activist Returns Home After Month-long Expulsion

A leading campaigner for independence for Western Sahara is returning home more than one month after Moroccan authorities expelled her for refusing to declare Moroccan citizenship. The agreement ends what supporters of the human rights activist say was a 32-day hunger strike.

Aminatou Haidar left the Spanish-controlled Canary Islands and returned to Western Sahara early Friday more than a month after her expulsion created a diplomatic stand-off between Morocco and Spain.

Moroccan authorities seized her passport November 16 after she refused to declare Moroccan citizenship when she returned to the disputed territory from New York where she won the 2009 Civil Courage Prize.

Though she was traveling on a Moroccan passport, Haidar says declaring Moroccan citizenship would recognize what she considers Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara.

Without a passport, she was denied entry to the Canary Islands and lived at the airport where she drank only sugared water on a hunger strike that supporters say lasted 32 days.

Haidar was moved to a hospital late Wednesday suffering from vomiting and severe stomach and abdominal pains. Leaving the hospital late Thursday for her flight home on a medically-equipped plane, Haidar told a local radio station that her return is a triumph for international law, for human rights, for international justice, and for the cause of Western Sahara.

The details of the deal allowing her return are not immediately clear but do not appear to include her declaring Moroccan citizenship. Diplomats from France and the United States are believed to have been involved in resolving the dispute between Spain and Morocco which became a domestic political embarrassment for the Spanish government.

Morocco claimed the coastal strip shortly after Spanish colonialists withdrew in 1975. Moroccan forces then fought ethnic Saharawi in the Algerian-backed Polisario movement. And while a 1991 ceasefire ended the war, it has not resolved Western Sahara's status.

Years of United Nations mediation 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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