Hunger-striking activist flown from Spain

AP News
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Posted: Dec 17, 2009 7:33 PM

Spanish news reports say an activist from the disputed territory of Western Sahara who has been on hunger strike in Spain for more than a month has been flown back home.

Cadena SER radio says Aminatou Haidar was flown out of Lanzarote island airport in the Canary Islands shortly after 10:30 p.m. (2130 GMT) Thursday, bound for Western Sahara.

Weakened by her fast, Haidar had admitted herself to a hospital Wednesday, suffering from stomach trouble.

The return flight appears to end a monthlong, bitter diplomatic wrangle, chiefly between Spain and Morocco.

In Paris, French President's Nicolas Sarkozy's office announced that Morocco will return Haidar's confiscated passport, allowing her return to Western Sahara. Sarkozy's office added that a message Thursday gave Morocco's assent.

The 42-year-old Haidar launched her hunger protest Nov. 14 after Morocco expelled her from the Western Sahara, a vast desert territory south of Morocco, for refusing to state her nationality as Moroccan.

Morocco and Mauritania split Western Sahara between them when Spanish colonizers left the territory in 1975. Morocco took over in 1979. But fighting continued between Polisario Front guerrillas and Morocco until a 1991 truce.

The Polisario rebel group wants independence for the territory. U.N.-brokered talks have failed to resolve the decades-long dispute.

The current crisis began when Haidar was stopped by Morocco on her return from the United States, where she was awarded the Train Foundation's Civil Courage Prize. The group honored her "courageous campaign for self-determination of Western Sahara from its occupation by Morocco, and against forced disappearances and abuses of prisoners of conscience." She has spent time in Moroccan prisons.

After she refused to recognize Moroccan nationality, she was deported to Spain's Canary Islands.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week both pressed for a resolution to the impasse.

The issue of nationality is sensitive in Morocco, where King Mohammed VI recently gave a speech with pointed comments for Sahrawi activists, saying, "Either a person is Moroccan, or is not ... One is either a patriot, or a traitor."