No custody for Western Sahara leader


SPAIN’S High Court has turned down a request for Western Sahara independence leader Brahim Ghali to be taken into custody, saying the plaintiffs in a war crimes case against him had failed to provide evidence he had committed any crime.

Ghali’s presence in Spain has infuriated Morocco, which says Western Sahara is part of its own territory and last month appeared to relax border controls with a Spanish enclave, resulting in a sudden influx of migrants.

The Polisario Front leader, who has been hospitalized in the Spanish city of Logrono for more than a month, appeared remotely before the court in Madrid.

He and other Polisario leaders are accused by human rights groups and Western Sahara individuals of genocide, murder, terrorism, torture and disappearances, a court document said. He denies any wrongdoing.

“The prosecution report has not provided elements of evidence supporting the existence of reasons to believe he is responsible of any crime,” a court document said.

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The Spanish government says he was allowed treatment in Spain as a humanitarian gesture.

A Spanish newspaper said Ghali planned to leave Spain soon although his lawyer says he will remain until the case is over.

Shortly after Tuesday’s court decision, Spanish government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero said she expected diplomatic relations with Morocco to return to normal within hours.

But despite her optimism, the decision not to detain Ghali was likely to infuriate Morocco.

Rabat said on Monday that the hearing against Ghali was important to show “the real face of the Polisario”.

It said its dispute with Spain was no longer simply about Ghali but over what it saw as Spanish disrespect over the Western Sahara issue.

Morocco’s king has told the government to facilitate the return of Moroccan children who are in European countries illegally, it said on Tuesday, seemingly in response to Spanish media reports that it had stopped taking back migrants.

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In a further development, Spain’s air navigation authority Enaire said air traffic controllers had denied access to Spanish airspace to a plane heading from Algiers to Logrono on instructions from the Spanish military.

Government spokeswoman Montero said she was not aware of any plane.

Ghali’s Algeria-backed Polisario Front is fighting for the independence of Western Sahara, which was a Spanish colony until the mid-1970s and has since been considered by Morocco as part of its own territory.


Tuesday’s court proceedings were a preliminary hearing, the first step toward a potential trial.

Prosecution lawyer Mariana Delmas said she had sought preventative measures against Ghali to stop him leaving the country. However, the court said it did not consider him a flight risk.

Spanish newspaper El Pais reported on Tuesday that Ghali planned to leave Spain imminently, citing government sources.

Ghali’s lawyer Manuel Olle said his client, who travels on an Algerian diplomatic passport, will stay in Spain until the case is resolved. He was asking the court to drop the case, he said.

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Montero said the Spanish government expected Ghali to return to where he came from once his health improves. Spanish authorities remained alert in case of any further problems on border, she added.

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