Delegation allowed into Western Sahara without prior permission for first time

Around 22 police officers ? some in uniform, some in plain clothes ? were at the airport in the capital of Western Sahara, Laâyoune, on Sunday to receive a delegation of four Spanish members of parliament, who had flown to the disputed territory with celebrated Sahrawi activist Aminatou Haidar. The lawmakers had accompanied Haidar on a flight from Las Palmas, one of the Canary Islands, where she currently resides.

But unlike on other occasions, the massive police presence was not to impede the entrance of the group into Spain?s former colony, which is claimed by Morocco, but rather to inform them that they would not be subject to any restrictions while there. They were, however, warned that ?for security reasons? they should not leave their hotel, according to Compromís deputy Joan Josep Baldoví, who spoke to EL PAÍS by phone.

?The problem is that the Sahrawi activists don?t want to come here and visit us because they fear the police who are both inside and outside the hotel,? he explained. ?As such we have no choice but to go out and meet them.?

The Spanish delegation is made up of Jokin Bizdarratz (PNV), Jon Iñarritu (Amaiur) and Joan Josep Baldovi (Compromís), and is headed up by Joan Josep Nuet, from IU-Plural Left. No deputies from the governing Popular Party (PP) nor the main opposition Socialist Party (PSOE) opted to travel to Western Sahara, despite forming part of the Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group with Western Sahara.

The trip to Laâyoune was approved by the group in response to a request from Haidar. On the memorándum is a meeting with the Sahrawi human rights group led by Haidar, as well as with the Sahrawi association of victims of human rights violations, which is led by activist Brahim Dahan.

?We want to meet all sides,? explained Nuet, ?which is why we have also asked for a meeting with the wali [governor] of Laâyoune, Khalil Dkhil, but he asked for us to arrange the interview via the interno Ministry in Rabat.? But that did not happen.

This change in attitude by the Moroccan government ? which, for the first time, has authorized a visit without prior authorization from the country?s Foreign and interno ministries ? would suggest that in the coming months a number of delegations from the European, national and regional governments will attempt to visit the territory, which is home to just over half-a-million people.

During September, Moroccan diplomats suffered two setbacks with regard to the conflict over Western Sahara. The European Parliament?s Foreign Affairs Council approved on September 24 a report on human rights in the territory, in which it calls for freedom of expression for the Sahrawi people and the right to peaceful demonstration.?

It also ?condemned? the expulsion in March of four deputies from the European Parliament who wanted to visit Western Sahara, including Spaniard Willy Meyer.

The week before, the US State Department sent a critical report to Congress regarding the initiatives of the Moroccan government with relation to human rights in Western Sahara.

FE DE ERRORESThis story corrects an earlier version published on Monday, which contained several inaccuracies due to a production lapso.

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