24 November 2009

Aminatou still on hunger strike

Saharawi activist refuses Madrid refugee offer

Aminatou Haidar

Middle East Online, 24 November 2009

MADRID - Western Sahara activist Aminatou Haidar has declined an offer by Madrid to grant her refugee status following her expulsion from the territory by Morocco, a representative said Saturday.

Jose Morales Brum, a trade union leader in Spain's Canary Islands, said that Haidar, a winner of several human rights awards, was continuing the hunger strike she began at midnight on Sunday [November 15].

Haidar is at the airport on the island of Lanzarote demanding to be sent back to the Western Sahara capital of Laayoune to recover her passport confiscated by Moroccan authorities last week.

"The government is ready, if Ms Haidar asks, to grant her refugee status as soon as possible and provide her with all the necessary documents (so she can travel)," the Spanish foreign ministry said in a statement Friday.

The ministry said it would act if the Moroccan consulate in Spain turns down her request for a new passport. But Haidar refuses to apply to the consulate, saying she wants her old passport back.

Morocco's ambassador to Spain, Omar Azziman, said she could receive her passport back if she recognized her Moroccan nationality.

"Perhaps if Aminatou Haidar recognized her Moroccan nationality, her passport would be returned. At the moment it is impossible," he told reporters.

"It is not Spain or Morocco that has a problem, it is she, and the solution therefore is in her hands."

Moroccan authorities arrested Haidar on November 13 on her arrival in Laayoune from Spain's Canary Islands.

Immigration officials immediately sent her back to the archipelago after confiscating her passport. She used her Spanish residency permit to re-enter the country.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said that in the face of Haidar's refusal there was nothing more he could do, adding that he had already expressed his concern about her case Thursday in a meeting with his Moroccan counterpart Taieb Fassi Fihri.

In October, Haidar received the Civil Courage Prize from the New York-based Train Foundation for her human rights campaigning in the disputed Western Sahara territory.

Morocco annexed phosphate-rich Western Sahara after Spain left in 1975 and has pledged to grant it widespread autonomy but rules out independence demanded by the Polisario Front rebel movement which has the backing of Algeria.

Azziman said Haidar had been an activist who never had any problems but had recently "drifted towards the separatist thesis of the Polisario".

Earlier this month Morocco's King Mohammed VI warned of a crackdown against "opponents of the territorial integrity of Morocco," referring to Sahrawis who support the Polisario Front.

While fighting halted in 1991, UN-sponsored talks on Western Sahara's future have made no headway.

From: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=35873


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