Passport seizure traps Western Sahara activist in Spain

MADRID - An award-winning Western Sahara rights activist expelled to Spain's Canary Islands cannot go home as Moroccan authorities have taken her passport away, the Spanish foreign ministry said on Sunday.
The announcement came after Aminatou Haidar, 42, was arrested on Friday in the disputed territory's main city of Laayoune for allegedly refusing to carry out police formalities and expelled the following day.

Passport seizure traps Western Sahara activist in Spain
Moroccan authorities accuse her of links to the separatist Polisario rebel group, while Haidar told AFP that she was arrested after writing Western Sahara as her country of residency on an entry form at Laayoune airport.
Haidar was then sent to Lanzarote airport on the Canary Islands, where she threatened to go on hunger strike if she was not allowed to fly back to Laayoune, where the mother-of-two lives with her children.
But the Spanish foreign ministry said that Haidar could not leave without "a passport or another travel document which she doesn't have at the moment because she said that they (Moroccan authorities) took her passport away."
Haidar, who was recently awarded a major peace prize in New York, entered Spain using her Spanish residency permit which is not valid for travel abroad, the ministry said.
The statement was issued after Haidar lodged a legal complaint against the Spanish authorities for allowing her to enter illegally, Spanish media reported, and another against Rabat for her illegal expulsion.
The foreign ministry added that "transportation companies are required by law to identify passengers and ensure that they have a valid travel document."
Haidar, a leading defender of the human rights of the Sahrawis, as the people of the Western Sahara are known, received the Civil Courage Prize from The Train Foundation in New York on October 21.
She said at the time that she risked being arrested upon her return to Western Sahara.
"This prize gives me the courage to pursue the non-violent struggle that I have been leading since I was 23," Haidar told AFP after receiving the award.
"I have been threatened with arrest on my return," she said.
Moroccan authorities imprisoned her for several months in 2005.
Haidar is a frequent critic of Morocco's annexation of Western Sahara after Spanish colonial rule ended in 1975, prompting an uprising by the Polisario for the independence of the territory.
Morocco has proposed broad self-government under its sovereignty in order to end the conflict which a string of UN peace plans has failed to solve.
Image: Western Saharian children in the refugee camps of Tindouf in 2005 (AFP/File/Fayez Nureldine).

Monday, November 16th 2009

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