- The Washington Times - Friday, December 18, 2009

MOROCCO SCRAMBLES

King Mohammed VI of Morocco this week dispatched top aides to Washington for damage control, amid congressional concerns over the fate of a prominent Western Sahara independence activist, who was hospitalized in Canary Islands on Thursday with serious health problems from a monthlong hunger strike.

The activist, Aminatou Haidar, was later allowed to fly home to Western Sahara.

The king sent Fouad Ali al-Himma, a former college classmate and former official at the Interior Ministry, and Yassin Mansouri, the head of Moroccan intelligence, to talk to State Department officials and supporters of Ms. Haidar, who refuses to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara.

Ms. Haidar was admitted to the intensive care unit of a hospital on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, suffering from the effects of her hunger strike, which began Nov. 16.

“She is on fluids and is taking medicine for easing the pain but is not taking food,” Jeffrey Buchanan, spokesman for the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, said in Washington earlier. Representatives of the center, which presented Ms. Haidar with its annual human rights award last year, were scheduled to meet with the envoys, he added.

Rep. Donald M. Payne, New Jersey Democrat and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, earlier called on the king to allow Ms. Haidar to return to home.

“Let her sacrifice be an urgent call to His Majesty King Mohammed VI, the Moroccan government and to the international community, highlighting the urgent need for a resolution of the crisis of the Western Sahara,” Mr. Payne said.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Monday that Ms. Haidar’s hunger strike “has brought worldwide attention to the plight of the Saharawi people of Western Sahara, who have languished for over 30 years.”

Ms. Haidar, 43, began her hunger strike after Morocco refused to allow her to re-enter the North African state on her return from New York last month where she received the Train Foundation’s Civil Courage Prize. In defiance of Moroccan sovereignty claims, Ms. Haidar had filled out her landing card by listing her address as in Western Sahara instead of Morocco.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi-Fihri said Ms. Haidar “disowned her identity and her nationality.”

Moroccan authorities, in response, confiscated her passport and put her on a plane to the Canary Islands, which belongs to Spain. The case caused tensions between Spain and Morocco, which cooperate in the fight to stem illegal immigration and drug trafficking, and also embarrassed Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Morocco asserted its claim over the Western Sahara in 1976, after Spain ended its colonial occupation of the area. A guerrilla war against the Polisario Front ended in 1991 with a U.N.-brokered cease-fire, but a final solution to the sovereignty dispute remains unsettled.

ACTIVISTS’ APPEAL

Five Chinese lawyers met privately for almost two hours with U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman to describe their experiences with police brutality for promoting human rights and democracy in the communist nation.

“He expressed his admiration for the work that we’re doing inside China,” Zhan Kai told New Tang Dynasty Television, describing Mr. Huntsman’s reaction to their appeal in the Dec. 9 meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

“He believes the ideals behind what we do match the nation-founding ideals of the United States because the United States is a country that pursues freedom, equality, democracy and the rule of law.”

The other lawyers were Li Fangping, Wang Guangze and Dai Jinbo and Jiang Tianyong.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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