Row between Madrid and Rabat heats up over Western Sahara rebel leader

The leader of Western Sahara’s independence movement, whose presence in Spain has angered the Moroccan government, will appear via video link before a Spanish court today to answer allegations of torture and genocide.

Brahim Ghali’s treatment for COVID-19 at a hospital in Spain has soured relations between Madrid and Rabat.

Ghali heads the Polisario Front, a group that is based in southern Algeria and fights for independence of Western Sahara, which Morocco annexed in the 1970s.

With Ghali considered a war criminal by Rabat, the Moroccan government last week decided to turn a blind eye at its shared border with the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, and allowed thousands of immigrants access to the enclave, much to the anger of Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez:

“It is unacceptable for a government to say that it is attacking the borders, in this case Spain’s borders, that it is opening the borders so that 10,000 immigrants can enter a Spanish city such as Ceuta in less than 48 hours because of disagreements and differences, discrepancies in foreign policy,” Sanchez said on Monday.

Madrid agreed to treat Ghali as a favour to Algeria, its main supplier of natural gas, according to Spain’s El Pais newspaper.

Eduard Soler Lecha is a Senior Researcher at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs. He said Spain and Morocco perceive the current crisis, and the future of their relations, very differently:

“If you ask Madrid, Morocco is still a strategic partner…If you ask Rabat, they will tell you that this strategic partnership is broken, that trust has gone, and that unless Spain changes its policy considerably towards Western Sahara, these ties won’t be mended.”

Watch the full interview with Eduard Soler Lecha by clicking on the media player above.


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