Saturday, December 26, 2009

More of the Same : Morocco Puts Aminatou Under House Arrest

Here's the Latest from the Western Saharan drama - a Reuters article about Aminatou Haidar placement under house arrest by Moroccan authorities.

W.Sahara activist is under Moroccan house arrest
Thu Dec 24, 2009 5:55pm IST

By Zakia Abdennebi and Lamine Chikhi

RABAT/TINDOUF (Reuters) - Western Sahara independence activist Aminatou Haidar said Moroccan police had surrounded her house and kept her under house arrest since her return to her desert homeland after a hunger strike in Spain.

She vowed to step up her struggle for human rights in the former Spanish territory despite what she called Moroccan repression.

Moroccan officials said Rabat was committed to respecting human rights in Western Sahara and elsewhere in the country. They declined to comment further on Haidar's case.

A tract of desert the size of Britain which has lucrative phosphate reserves and potentially offshore oil, Western Sahara is the scene of Africa's longest-running territorial dispute.

Last week, Haidar, a 43-year-old mother-of-two ended a month-long hunger strike in a Spanish airport in protest at Rabat's refusal to let her back into Western Sahara unless she declared her loyalty to the Moroccan king.

Morocco let her return home after the United States, Spain and other countries intervened.

Haidar's fasting focused international attention on Western Sahara's dispute in a way rarely seen in the 35 years since Morocco annexed the territory after Spain pulled out.

"The siege in continuing. I'm under house arrest. Family members and neighbours have problems visiting me. Shops in my neighbourhood are suffering from the siege," Haidar told Reuters by telephone from Rabat late on Wednesday.

Reuters reporters travelled to Laayoune, Western Sahara's main city, to interview her at her home but security forces blocked access. Other journalists have also been prevented from meeting Haidar.


"I have the courage of my conviction to carry on with the defence of the cause of self-determination of the Sahrawi people. I will never waver despite the threats of jail, abduction, torture and exile," she added.

She accused Morocco of having a "carrot-and-the stick" policy towards Algeria-based Polisario Front and the Sahrawis in the territory.

"Morocco represses the Sahrawi population while it is negotiating with the Polisario Front," added Haidar.

Morocco said it is ready to resume negotiations with the Polisario on a deal on the future of the territory. Rabat has offered autonomy.

The Polisario, which seeks an independent state in the territory, also wants the talks to resume but it insists that Rabat halts what it called its widespread abuses of human rights in Western Sahara.

Haidar has become of "symbol of a nation" for Sahrawis in Western Sahara as well as in refugee camps in the Algerian southwestern area of Tindouf.

"She is our Mandela, our Gandhi," 37-year-old Gani Minatou told Reuters while she was making sweet tea inside her tent in a refugee camp.

Many Sahrawis see her hunger strike as breathing a new life into their cause.

"Before Aminatou, the cause reached a deadlock. There was no hope for a solution. But Aminatou's action put back the Western Sahara's issue at the top of the international agenda," Sahrawi journalist based in Tindouf El Bachir El Dhif told Reuters.

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

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