Sahara activist reported weak from hunger strike

AP News
Posted: Nov 28, 2009 11:57 AM

An award-winning Western Sahara independence activist who has been on a nearly two-week hunger strike since Morocco expelled her from the disputed territory is so weak she can hardly stand or speak, supporters said Saturday.

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights expressed grave concern over the health of Aminatou Haidar, 42, who wants to return to the Western Sahara, the former Spanish colony where she lives with her husband and two teenage children.

Haidar is also furious with Spain for not helping her go back home, her lawyer said.

The RFK center, based in Washington D.C., gave Haidar a human rights award in 2008 for her work in advocating self-determination for the Sahrawi people of the Western Sahara, which Morocco annexed after the Spanish pulled out in 1975, and for denouncing human rights abuses by the Moroccan government. The center says she is commonly referred to as the "Sahrawi Gandhi."

Haidar has been camped out at an airport in Lanzarote in Spain's Canary Islands after being sent there from the Western Sahara _ against her will, according to Haidar. She had arrived in the disputed territory Nov. 14 via Spain after a trip to the United States to receive another human rights award, this time in New York.

RFK center representative Marselha Goncalves Margerin says Morocco expelled her to Lanzarote and kept her passport after she refused to acknowledge Moroccan sovereignty over the territory. Haidar launched her hunger strike after arriving in Spain, and since then has ingested only water with sugar.

"She is very weak today. People who have been here with her for the past 13 days said that she it is the worst that they have seen her," Goncalves Margerin said. "She looks really, really frail."

The Spanish government said this week it cannot allow Haidar to fly back to the Western Sahara without a passport. In a statement, the Foreign Ministry it said it has offered her refugee status. But that would mean she could not go back home.

Haidar believes the Spanish government is acting in connivance with Morocco, saying it makes no sense that Spain let her into this country without a passport but refuses to let her leave again on grounds she lacks one, Goncalves Margerin told the AP from Lanzarote.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos telephoned Haidar Saturday, expressing admiration for her, worry over her physical condition and hope that her situation can be resolved soon, said Haidar's lawyer, Ines Miranda.

Haidar responded by saying she was indignant over how Spain had treated her and the fact that no one from the Spanish government has gone to see her "in the spot where Spain and Morocco have put her and she is sleeping in the street," Miranda told the AP.

Foreign ministry officials could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Miranda said the activist has not personally received any offer from the government on how to resolve her problem. "She never thought the Spanish government would treat her this way," Miranda said.

"But I can tell you that her head is clear and she knows perfectly well what she wants and what she is doing," Miranda said.