Polisario Front leader to leave Spain after hospital stay

Madrid, Jun 1 (EFE).- The leader of resistance to Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara, whose presence in Spain has sparked a diplomatic spat between Madrid and Rabat, is set to depart the Iberian nation after being hospitalized for more than a month, Spanish officials told Efe Tuesday.

Doctors at San Pedro de Logroño Hospital cleared Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali to go at 10:00 pm Tuesday and he was taken by ambulance to the airport in the northern city of Pamplona, the sources said.

Sahrawi sources in Algeria, which supports the Polisario, confirmed to Efe that the French charter flight carrying Ghali was scheduled to arrive in Algiers at 02:00 GMT Wednesday.

Morocco has been informed through diplomatic channels of Ghali’s imminent departure, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said, emphasizing that the head of the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) had been allowed to enter Spain “for humanitarian reasons.”

Ghali, 71, was traveling under an assumed identity when he arrived in Spain on April 18 to obtain medical treatment for Covid-19.

He spent several weeks in the intensive care unit at the Logroño hospital.

By Tuesday, Ghali was fit enough to take part by videoconference in a hearing convened by National Court Judge Santiago Pedraz for the Polisario chief to respond to accusations of mass murder, torture and other offenses.

Ghali pleaded not guilty on all counts and Pedraz declined to remand him in custody or place any restrictions on his movement, described the accusations against him as lacking evidence.

Ghali’s sojourn in Spain provoked an angry reaction from Morocco, which Madrid accuses of engineering last week’s rush of more than 8,000 undocumented migrants into Ceuta, a Spanish city that faces the Mediterranean on one side and Moroccan territory on the other.

At about the same time as Ghali’s judicial hearing, an official Algerian government plane apparently en route to Logroño was forced to turn around as it attempted to land in Spain without proper permits.

Radar data reviewed by Efe showed that the Gulfstream G-IV jet took off from a military airbase in Algiers.

Spanish government spokesperson Maria Jesus Montero said Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s administration was hopeful of a return to normal relations with Morocco once Ghali left Spain.

“Spain wants and wishes for good relations with Morocco, not only because we are neighbors, but because we are trading partners,” she said.

The former Spanish colony of Western Sahara has been an object of contention between Rabat and the indigenous Sahrawis for more than four decades.

Morocco invaded the region in 1975 as Spain withdrew. The Polisario responded with armed resistance and won a judgment from the World Court backing the Sahrawis’ demand for self-determination.

In 1976, the Polisario proclaimed the independence of the territory as the SADR, which maintains diplomatic relations with 40 countries and is a member of the African Union.

The SADR controls only 20 percent of Western Sahara, a mostly desert expanse of 266,000 sq.km. (103,000 sq. mi.) with a population of around 500,000. The region’s principal natural resources are phosphate and rich coastal fishing grounds. EFE nac-jm-cd/jt/dr

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