UN's Ban meets Moroccan minister on hunger striker

Sat Dec 12, 2009 8:07am GMT

By Patrick Worsnip

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday pursued an attempt to resolve a Spanish-Moroccan impasse over a hunger strike by a Western Sahara independence activist by raising the issue with Morocco's foreign minister.

On Thursday, the U.N. secretary-general telephoned Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos and proposed what U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky called "possible steps to resolve the situation." Nesirky declined to provide details.

Aminatou Haidar has been at Lanzarote airport in Spain's Canary Islands fasting for nearly four weeks, since Moroccan authorities put her back on a plane when she returned home to Western Sahara's capital Laayoune after a trip to New York.

The hunger strike by Haidar, 43, has strained relations between Spain and Morocco, which annexed most of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in 1975. The future of the territory is the subject of deadlocked U.N.-led negotiations between Morocco and Sahara's Polisario independence group.

U.N. officials said Ban had expressed deep concern to Moroccan minister Taieb Fassi Fihri over Haidar's health.

After meeting Ban, Fihri gave few details of their talks, but told reporters it had been decided "that we will maintain the contact and each of the parties will evaluate what they heard from the other."

Fihri accused Haidar of "blackmail" and charged that the hunger strike was aimed at distracting attention from what he said was the refusal of the Polisario Front to engage in further talks over Western Sahara.

"It's not a humanitarian situation, it's a political decision ... to avoid negotiations," he said. "All (Moroccan) political parties agreed that we cannot respond to blackmail."   Continued...

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