Hunger striking W.Sahara activist returns home

LAAYOUNE- Western Sahara independence activist Aminatou Haidar returned to the disputed Moroccan territory on Friday, after a month-long hunger strike at a Spanish airport to demand she be allowed home.
The 42-year-old mother of two launched her protest on November 16 at Lanzarote airport, in Spain's Canary Islands, days after Moroccan authorities denied entry to her native Western Sahara.

Aminatou Haidar
Aminatou Haidar
She had been returning from a trip to the United States, where she had received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Prize in New York.
Haidar, who campaigns for the independence of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1975, was discharged late Thursday from hospital in Lanzarote, where she was admitted a day earlier at her own request, and taken to the airport for the flight home.
"This is a triumph for international law, for human rights, for international justice and for the cause" of Western Sahara, Haidar said before leaving Lanzarote.
"The first thing I am going to do when I arrive will be to kiss my mother and my two children."
Her plane touched down shortly after midnight (0015 GMT) in Laayoune, the main city in Western Sahara.
Police said Haidar carried out entry requirements at the airport, stating on a form that she was "arriving in Morocco", before leaving in a car driven by her uncle.
The Moroccan foreign ministry confirmed Friday that Rabat had granted the request of "friendly countries and partners" for Haidar's return to Laayoune.
But Rabat said it remained firm on "total respect for Moroccan law by everybody without exception and on the integrity of the national territory."
A spokesman for UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was greatly relieved that Haidar was able to return home and was "grateful for the efforts of all parties involved in finding a solution to this situation."
The United States said it was "pleased" with Morocco's decision to readmit Haidar.
"This humanitarian gesture is reflective of the true spirit and generosity of the Moroccan government and people, and underscores the urgency of finding a permanent solution to the Western Sahara conflict," said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said Madrid had made "no concessions" to Morocco in negotiating the activist's return.
"It's something we're all pleased to see. It's been a long fight for her."
In an interview with Spanish news radio Cadena Ser, Haidar said after she returned home on Friday police surrounded her house for several hours.
"They surrounded the house and did not let my children leave it, saying that the children of Aminatou Haidar can't leave the house. Of course, this was to prevent the media from reaching the house," she said, adding she was willing to go to jail to continue pressing her cause.
The activist was accompanied on her flight home by her personal doctor. She had insisted on continuing her hunger strike despite being admitted into intensive care on Wednesday.
Haidar had turned down a Spanish offer of citizenship or political asylum, and vowed to return to Western Sahara "dead or alive, with or without my passport."
Rabat had barred her return, saying she had rejected her Moroccan nationality and passport, an account she has denied.
Morocco annexed the Western Sahara following the withdrawal of colonial power Spain in the dying days of the regime of right-wing dictator Francisco Franco, sparking a war with the Algeria-backed Polisario Front movement.
The two sides agreed a ceasefire in 1991, but UN-sponsored talks on its future have since made no headway.
Morocco has pledged to grant the phosphate-rich territory widespread autonomy, but rules out independence.

Friday, December 18th 2009

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