Morocco demands probe into WSahara head's entry to Spain

Morocco demands probe into WSahara head's entry to Spain
Western Saharan independence movement leader Brahim Ghali entered Spain with forged documents, Morocco alleged on Saturday, amid a heated diplomatic row over the incident.
3 min read
Spain claims Brahim Ghali entered for 'humanitarian purposes' [Getty]

Morocco on Saturday said the Western Saharan independence movement leader had entered Spain with forged documents and demanded an investigation into the incident at the centre of a diplomatic row.

Brahim Ghali, who heads the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, has been treated for Covid-19 in Spain since mid-April, a move that has angered Morocco.

Tensions between the two countries rose further after thousands of migrants crossed the border from Morocco into Spain's North African enclave of Ceuta this week.

Analysts have said Rabat allowed the crossings to pressure Madrid to recognise Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.

Ghali, who is in his 70s, travelled to Spain "with forged documents and a fake identity", Fouad Yazourh, a senior Moroccan foreign ministry official, told reporters.

"An investigation, which we hope will be transparent, should be carried out to shed light on this affair," he added.

In April, Morocco summoned the Spanish ambassador to express its "exasperation" after Ghali was allowed into Spain for medical care and demanded an explanation.

Moroccan authorities saw the hospitalisation in Spain of Ghali, "the leader of their main enemy," as a "very hostile decision", said Irene Fernandez-Molina, an international relations professor at the University of Exeter.

Rabat is also using the Ghali affair as a "pretext" to pile pressure on Madrid to follow Washington's lead and change its policy on Western Sahara, "which is the top issue always for Moroccan foreign policy," she added.

The Spanish foreign ministry said at the time that he had been allowed into the country for "strictly humanitarian reasons".

Earlier this week, judicial sources told AFP that a Spanish court has reopened a probe into allegations of torture against Ghali.

The accusations were filed by the Spain-based Sahrawi Association for the Defence of Human Rights, the sources said.

The group alleges dissident members of the Western Sahara independence movement were held in camps in Algeria where they underwent torture and in some cases were killed.

The Algeria-backed Polisario Front has long fought for Western Sahara's independence from Morocco. A desert region the size of Britain, it was a Spanish colony until 1975.

Morocco has offered Western Sahara autonomy, but maintains the territory is a sovereign part of the kingdom.

In December the United States under former president Donald Trump became the first Western country to recognise Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara in exchange for Rabat's normalisation of relations with Israel.

The "expectation of Moroccan authorities since" then has been that other Western nations would do the same, said Feranandez-Molina, an expert on the Western Sahara conflict.

"In the case of Spain, Morocco has a very strong card to play which is migration control," she told AFP.

Spain has tried to appear neutral on the Western Sahara issue. It maintains a solution to the issue can only come from an agreement brokered by the United Nations.

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Ignacio Cembrero, a Spanish journalist seen as an expert on the Western Sahara, said Spain's position is important to Morocco because "it is the former colonial power" in Western Sahara.

"And its voice in the United Nations, even if it is not on the Security Council, would always be listened to," he told AFP.