Cablegate: Aminatou Haidar Returns Safely to Western Sahara


DE RUEHRB #0990/01 3521540
O 181540Z DEC 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L RABAT 000990



E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/18/2019


Classified By: DCM Robert P. Jackson for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: Prominent Sahrawi pro-independence activist
Aminatou Haidar returned safely to the Western Sahara on
December 18 aboard a Spanish military aircraft. She
recovered her passport at the airport, completed normal
Moroccan immigration formalities, and proceeded from the
airport to her home in the company of family members.
Sahrawi activists report that she has terminated her hunger
strike; that she is in very good spirits; but that she is
still in precarious physical condition and under close
medical supervision at her home. Western Sahara-based
government officials confirm that her arrival took place
without incident, and that a spontaneous gathering of
well-wishers had taken place with no serious security
incidents. After having handled the Haidar case in
disastrous fashion, the GOM finally brought the ordeal to an
end -- and not a moment too soon. However, the case has left
the GOM angry and badly shaken, which will create real
challenges as we look toward the next round of formal UN-led
Manhasset talks. End Summary.

Home Safely

2. (SBU) Aminatou Haidar, President of the Collective of
Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA) and a prominent
Sahrawi pro-independence activist, returned safely to her
home in Laayoune, Western Sahara, in the early hours of
December 18. Haidar arrived shortly after 2:00 AM local time
(GMT) aboard a Spanish military plane specially equipped to
handle medical emergencies, and in the company of her sister
and a physician. By prior agreement among Haidar and the
Governments of Morocco and Spain, there were no journalists
or other passengers aboard, according to Laayoune-based
Moroccan Ministry of Interior (MOI) officials. As Haidar
arrived, immigration officers met her plane-side and handed
her the passport they had confiscated on November 13 (Ref C),
and she proceeded to complete normal customs and immigration
formalities. There was a beefed-up police presence at the
airport, but only Haidar's brother and an uncle came to meet
her; by all accounts, she exited the airport without
incident, and they drove her home.

3. (SBU) Haidar's return marked the end of a 35-day exile
and of a hunger strike that had reportedly taken a terrible
physical toll on her. On December 16, her health had
deteriorated to the point that she had to be hospitalized in
Lanzarote, and she remains in precarious but stable condition
now at her home in Laayoune. Djimi Elghalya, a CODESA member
and the Vice Chair of the Association of Victims of Grave
Human Rights Violations (ASVDH), confirmed by phone that
Haider has ended her hunger strike and is beginning to take
food under close medical supervision; she is extremely weak,
but "her spirit is extremely strong."

Supporters Jubilant, Laayoune Calm

4. (SBU) At Haidar's home, a large, jubilant and peaceful
crowd turned out in the middle of the night to greet her,
according to both press reports and participants. CODESA
members told the Embassy that several hundred Sahrawis --
ranging from independence activists to apolitical
well-wishers -- gathered to celebrate "a great victory for
international law and human rights." Celebrations near her
home continued into the late morning, and there were
reportedly other gatherings throughout Laayoune. Elghalya
said that supporters had intentionally stayed away from the
airport, recognizing that the police presence there would be
heavy and in a specific effort to avoid any kind of incident.
However, she added, no one could keep away the "hundreds"
who spontaneously gathered at Haidar's home. Elghalya noted
that there were also police around Haidar's home, but they
limited themselves to keeping order and did not try to
interfere with the celebrations. Separately, Mohammed
Jelmous, the Wali of Laayoune (i.e., the Governor and senior
MOI official), said that a small group of "youths" who oppose
Western Saharan independence did attempt to gain access to
the crowds in front of Haidar's home, but police quickly
ushered them away after one threw a rock that hit -- but did
not seriously injure -- a Spanish journalist. Otherwise, the
Wali reported, as of noon Laayoune time, the city was calm.

Comment: An Ordeal Ended

5. (C) Haidar's return comes not a moment too soon,
especially in light of the serious down-turn her health had
taken in recent days. It also brings to a close a disastrous
episode for the GOM, which drew dangerously close not only to
perpetrating a case of forced exile, but also to badly
jeopardizing its relationships with Spain and other allies
through its belligerent handling of the case and some
stunningly maladroit diplomacy. Local press and our
Laayoune-based Sahrawi contacts have given enormous credit to
the U.S., France and to a lesser extent Spain for pressing
the GOM to find a solution to the problem. GOM officials
have grudgingly acknowledged that the tough -- and consistent
-- messages that Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation
Taieb Fassi Fihri heard on his recent travels to Europe and
the U.S. (Ref A) were crucial to the GOM's rather sudden
change of heart. Even the provincial Wali in Laayoune told
PolCouns, "You see, we listen to our friends." This said, we
will need to be mindful that the whole Haidar case has left
the GOM badly shaken; indeed, Moroccan officials' (and, we
suspect, the other parties') anger and distrust, especially
toward Algeria, has reached its highest level in recent
years. As we look to a fifth round of formal UN-led
Manhasset talks, Ambassador Ross, and we, have our work cut
out for us. End Comment.

Visit Embassy Rabat's Classified Website; cco


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