Activist's "victory" over Morocco puts Sahara back on world agenda
Deutsche Presse-Agentur - Western Sahara activist Aminatou Haidar has been reunited with her two children and mother after she was allowed to return to the Moroccan-controlled territory overnight, a representative of a Spanish platform supporting her said Friday.
The reunion was 'moving,' said Jose Morales, whose movement supported the 'Western Saharan Gandhi' during her 32-day hunger strike on the Canary Island of Lanzarote.
Spanish radio reports said Moroccan police had clashed with pro-Haidar demonstrators in the Western Saharan capital Laayoun, detaining several people.
There was heavy police presence in the city, representatives of the Western Saharan independence movement Polisario Front told Spanish National Radio.
International pressure and diplomatic efforts by Spain, France and the United States finally persuaded Morocco to allow Haidar to return to Laayoun in a medically equipped plane provided by Spain.
On entry, she was given back her passport which Morocco had taken away when barring her entry to Laayoun and deporting her to Lanzarote in mid-November.
Haidar was returning to Laayoun via the Canary Islands from the United States, where she had received a civil courage award.
Haidar then launched a hunger strike at Lanzarote airport, with international pressure on Morocco and Spain increasing as her health deteriorated.
The Moroccan Foreign Ministry said Rabat had allowed Haidar to return to Laayoun for 'strictly humanitarian reasons.'
Haidar defends the independence of Western Sahara which Morocco occupied after the colonial power Spain pulled out in 1975. Polisario then launched a war which ended with UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991.
The ceasefire agreement foresaw a referendum on independence, but Rabat wants to shelve that plan and is offering Western Sahara autonomy instead.
Haidar had launched her hunger strike on behalf of the Algerian-backed Polisario, the Moroccan Foreign Ministry claimed.
The Spanish daily El Mundo hailed Haidar as a 'winner' who had managed to put the Western Sahara conflict back on top of the international agenda.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday Morocco's decision to readmit Haidar was an act of 'generosity' that also underscored the urgent need for a permanent solution to the Western Sahara conflict.
The UN Security Council announced a meeting on Western Sahara to accelerate the talks between Morocco and Polisario.
Spain and France, however, appeared to have made some concessions to Morocco in exchange for its readmitting Haidar. Both countries released communiques recognizing that Moroccan law was valid in Western Sahara until the conflict was resolved.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy also gave his backing to the Moroccan autonomy proposal, Spanish and Moroccan media quoted the French communique as saying.
The Spanish daily El Pais, however, said Morocco's expulsion of Haidar had undermined the international credibility of the autonomy proposal.
Africa's last colony
Since 1975, three quarters of the Western Sahara territory has been illegally occupied by Morocco. The original population lives divided between those suffering human rights abuses under the Moroccan occupation and those living in exile in Algerian refugee camps. For more than 40 years, the Saharawi await the fulfilment of their legitimate right to self-determination.