W.Sahara activist heads home, declares triumph

18 December 2009
Agence France Presse
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009 All reproduction and presentation rights reserved.

Western Sahara independence activist Aminatou Haidar headed back to the disputed Moroccan territory overnight Thursday, declaring triumph after a long hunger strike to protest being exiled.

Haidar was released from hospital in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, and immediately headed to the airport where she boarded a plane heading for the Western Sahara.

“This is a triumph for international law, for human rights, for international justice and for the cause of Western Sahara”, said Haidar, 42, as she left the clinic late Thursday and was taken to the airport in an ambulance.

“The first thing I am going to do when I arrive will be to kiss my mother and my two children,” she said.

She had been admitted to intensive care after stopping eating more than a month ago when Rabat denied her entry into the disputed territory.

After being turned back from her homeland, the award-winning activist was put on a plane and sent to Lanzarote, where she started her hunger strike.

A medically equipped plane — fitted out to treat the activist who was rushed to hospital shortly after midnight on Wednesday — took off from the island’s airport late Thursday.

The aircraft headed for Laayoune, the main city in Western Sahara, which has been a source of tension since Morocco annexed the territory after the withdrawal of colonial power Spain in 1975.

Haidar will be accompanied on the flight by her personal doctor, who looked after her during the first days of her hunger strike before she refused medical treatment.

Despite her admission to intensive care after her condition deteriorated, Haidar insisted on continuing her hunger strike. Her lawyer said earlier Thursday the activist was in a stable condition.

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.

The details of the agreement that finally led Haidar heading back were not immediately clear, but Spain’s government had vowed to work round the clock to find a solution to the situation which had caused it great embarassment.

Spain’s foreign minister and a spokesman suggested earlier Thursday that an end might be in sight to the dispute that led the mother-of-two to start her protest.

Haidar launched her protest in Lanzarote airport on November 16 after Rabat denied her entry to her native Western Sahara.

She was turned back as she tried to return home after a trip to the United States, where she had recently received a prize for her