W.Sahara rights activist says being kept in Spain

A prominent Western Sahara independence campaigner who was expelled by Moroccan authorities from the disputed territory says she is being kept in Spain's Canary Islands against her will, a Spanish rights group said.

Sahrawi rights activist Aminatou Haidar, who won a peace prize in New York last month, arrived in Western Sahara last week but was stopped by Moroccan authorities and then put on a plane to Spain.

Haidar began a hunger strike after landing on the Spanish island of Lanzarote because she was expelled by Morocco and is not being permitted to leave Spain, said the Seville Association of Friends of the Sahrawi People.

"Haidar denounced Morocco for illegal expulsion from the country, the Spanish authorities for abduction in forcing her to enter the country ... and stopping her leaving, and the Spanish civil guard for bad treatment at the airport," the association said.

It said she was in a weak state and the hunger strike was aggravating an ulcer.

Morocco took control of most of the Western Sahara in 1975 after Spain withdrew from the desert territory and fought a low-level war against Sahrawi independence movement Polisario until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991.

Morocco is now offering limited autonomy for the resource-rich territory while Polisario, backed by Morocco's neighbour Algeria, is holding out for a referendum with independence as one option.

On Nov. 6, Morocco's King Mohammed said it was time for action against traitors threatening Morocco's "territorial integrity", a clear warning to Sahrawi independence activists.

The Madrid government said Haidar would not be allowed to leave Spanish territory until she has some travel papers.

"To leave Spain, she needs a passport or travel documents, which she doesn't have since she claims her Moroccan passport was taken from her," Spain's Foreign Ministry said on Sunday.

Morocco's government denied that Haidar had her passport forcibly confiscated.

"Members of Aminatou Haidar's family were able to talk with her and to witness her signing of declarations made in the presence of the King's prosecutor in which she clearly rejected Moroccan nationality," Morocco's Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri told official news agency MAP.

[Source: Reuters, Madrid, 16Nov09]

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