New tensions erupt between Spain, Morocco over Polisario leader

Morocco rejects Spain’s excuses for receiving Polisario leader.
Monday 10/05/2021
Morocco’s Foreign Affairs Minister Nasser Bourita attends a joint press conference with his Spanish counterpart Arancha Gonzalez Laya (L) in the capital Rabat, on January 24, 2020.(AFP)
Morocco’s Foreign Affairs Minister Nasser Bourita attends a joint press conference with his Spanish counterpart Arancha Gonzalez Laya (L) in the capital Rabat, on January 24, 2020. (AFP)

MADRID--A tug of war is straining relations between Madrid and Rabat, more than two weeks after tensions erupted over Spain’s decision to receive for medical treatment the leader of the Algeria-backed Polisario Front.

Earlier in April, Spanish officials revealed that Brahim Ghali, 73, is hospitalised in Spain for treatment of COVID-19.

Ghali heads the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, which has long fought for the control of Morocco’s Western Sahara, periodically engaging the Moroccan armed forces.

His presence in Spain has angered Morocco which has accused the Spanish government of endangering relations with Rabat.

In a response to a strongly-worded statement by the Moroccan Foreign Ministry, Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said Sunday Spain has “nothing to add to what has been said” regarding Ghali’s case.

The Spanish foreign minister was speaking to journalists during a news conference in Paraguay. When asked about the Morocco-Spain relations, Laya suggested Madrid has already made its position clear on the Ghali case and its relationship with Morocco.

Spain’s National Court, which deals with serious cases of terrorism and fraud, has summoned the Polisario leader to appear on June 1 to answer allegations of torture.

“Ghali has been summoned to appear on June 1 if he is well enough to attend the hearing,” a court spokesman said last week.

On Saturday, the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a strongly worded statement rejecting Madrid’s justifications for the decision to receive Ghali.

The ministry said that the failure of the Spanish authorities to inform their Moroccan counterparts of Ghali’s hospitalisation was not a “simple omission but rather a premeditated act, a voluntary choice and a sovereign decision by Spain, of which Morocco takes full note.”
Unconvinced by the “explanations”given by Madrid, Rabat does not believe in the “humanitarian considerations” put forward by Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzales to “justify this negative attitude.” This “does not justify the manoeuvres plotted behind the back of a partner and a neighbour,” the ministry argued.

“Humanitarian considerations cannot be a panacea that one grants selectively to the head of the militias of the Polisario, at a time when thousands of people live in inhuman conditions in the Tindouf camps,” the ministry added.

Observers believe that the ongoing tensions may ultimately lead to Rabat’s reassessment of its partnership with Madrid, despite the Spanish authorities ’attempt to ease the dispute.

Various political parties in Morocco agree that Madrid’s decision to receive Ghali constitutes a serious threat to Morocco.

Nine Moroccan political parties represented at the Parliament decried on Saturday Spain’s hosting of the leader of the polisario as “an unacceptable and condemnable act, an act in flagrant contradiction with the quality of relations between Morocco and Spain.”

This is an “unacceptable and condemnable act and an explicit provocation vis-à-vis Morocco, in flagrant contradiction with the quality of bilateral relations between the two peoples and the two countries, as well as neighborliness, especially since this individual is dragging serious accusations of human rights violations, crimes against humanity and serious violations of the rights of the detainees in the camps of Tindouf”, the political parties stressed in a joint statement issued after a meeting with head of government, Saad Eddine El Othmani, in the presence of Foreign Affairs Minister Nasser Bourita.

Expressing their strong disapproval and indignation at Spain’s move to let in Ghali, under a false identity, “which reflects an attitude peculiar to militias and criminal gangs,” the political parties called on the Spanish government “to clearly specify its position on this blatant violation and to undertake immediately everything that is likely to remedy this situation.”

They also rejected the “justifications and pretexts of some Spanish officials,” considering that “the partnership and neighbourliness require respecting the sovereignty of Morocco and stop dealing with its enemies.”

The joint statement was signed by the Party of Justice and Development, the Authenticity and Modernity Party, the Istiqlal Party, the National Rally of Independents, the Popular Movement, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces, the Constitutional Union, the Party of Progress and Socialism and the United Socialist Party.