Western Sahara independence leader leaves Spain for Algeria

By Alyssa McMurtry

OVIEDO, Spain (AA) – Brahim Ghali, leader of the Western Sahara independence movement Polisario Front, left Spain early Wednesday on a flight to Algeria.

His departure came just hours after he testified in front of the Spanish National High Court over allegations of war crimes including torture and genocide.

He denied all the accusations, calling them “false” and “absolutely political.”

The judge denied the plaintiffs’ requests to put him into pre-trial custody or take away his passport, saying there was a lack of evidence to support claims of war crimes and that Ghali was not considered a flight risk.

Ghali came to Spain in late April to treat his severe case of COVID-19.

But Spain’s decision to welcome the separatist leader without telling Morocco spurred one of the worst diplomatic crises between the two countries in decades.

It erupted when Moroccan officials relaxed border control measures and allowed around 9,000 migrants to pour into Spain’s small African enclave of Ceuta in just two days.

While the situation at the border did normalize, relations between Spain and Morocco remain tense.

On Monday, Morocco issued a statement slamming Spain for fostering independence in Western Sahara and speaking of trust being broken between the two nations.

Last year, former US President Donald Trump announced that Washington would recognize Morocco’s control of the mineral-rich Western Sahara region, putting an end to a half-century of American opposition to Rabat’s claim.

The move was in exchange for normalizing Morocco’s relationship with Israel but Morocco hoped to see more countries follow suit.

The EU has reiterated that it remains firm in its support of the UN resolution that seeks to ensure the “self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.”