W.Sahara separatist chief's arrival in Spain 'legal'

Western Sahara separatist chief's arrival in Spain 'legal': former minister
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The arrival of, Brahim Ghali, Western Sahara's independence leader, to Spain for medical treatment is legal, Madrid's former diplomat urged.
Brahim Ghali is critically ill [Getty]

The arrival in Spain of Western Sahara's independence leader for medical treatment is legal, Madrid's former top diplomat said Monday, after the affair sparked a row with Morocco.

Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali was critically ill with Covid-19 when he flew into the northern city of Zaragoza in April and was taken for treatment to a hospital in Logrono.

But Morocco, which controls most of Western Sahara, has accused Madrid of letting him enter on a forged passport.

Former foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya told a court in Zaragoza that there was nothing illegal about Ghali's arrival in Spain.

"From my point of view, his entry was in line with the law, and I hope the judge will quickly come to the same conclusion," she said.

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Ghali, now 72, arrived secretly on April 18 aboard a medical aircraft provided by the Algerian presidency, which supports the Saharan independence movement, carrying a diplomatic passport, according to the El Pais daily.

Spanish media said he was exempted from a passport check.

The court said late last month it wanted to "verify the circumstances" of Ghali's entry into Spain and was looking into the "possible commission of a crime of malfeasance" -- wrongdoing or misconduct by a public official.

Another former foreign ministry official also testified on Monday, and on October 18, the court will hear from a top interior ministry figure and the head of Spain's Royal Mint, which issues passports.

At the time of Ghali's arrival, Gonzalez Laya was serving as foreign minister, but she was replaced during a cabinet reshuffle in July.

The diplomatic crisis peaked in mid-May when more than 10,000 migrants surged into Spain's North African enclave of Ceuta as Moroccan border forces looked the other way in what was widely seen as a punitive move by Rabat.

Rabat has expressed its "exasperation" over the incident, demanding Spain hold a "transparent" investigation into Ghali's "irregular" entry into Spain, insisting he had travelled "with falsified documents, using a bogus identity".

After Ghali left for Algeria in early June, Madrid insisted he had entered Spain using identity papers in his own name.

The Polisario Front has long fought for the independence of Western Sahara, a desert region bigger than Britain, which was a Spanish colony until 1975.

Morocco controls 80 percent of the territory, while the rest -- an area bordering Mauritania that is almost totally landlocked -- is run by the Polisario Front.