Brahim Ghali, head of the Polisario Front, was admitted in serious condition with respiratory complications, allegedly under a false identity, to the San Pedro hospital in Logroño, after being transferred by ambulance from Zaragoza, as media outlets such as Jeune Afrique pointed out, and, after the Spanish government has recognised his presence on Spanish territory, the National Court (Audiencia Nacional) has begun to investigate his alleged crimes of genocide.
The Spanish government has reportedly accepted the Algerian government's request to take him in, according to various reports. "Mr Ghali has been transferred to Spain for strictly humanitarian reasons to receive medical assistance", sources from the Spanish Foreign Ministry confirmed to the newspaper La Vanguardia.
In the afternoon, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Arancha Gonzalez Laya, confirmed the humanitarian reasons to justify the decision of the government to accept the transfer to Spain of the Secretary General of the Polisario Front and assured that this situation does not have to affect the relations with Morocco "which are excellent". The minister explained that the attention for Ghali does not "disturb" the relationship with Morocco which is a "neighbor and friend" and a "privileged partner of this country". "We are Morocco's partners and responsible with our humanitarian obligations".
The governments of Spain and Morocco have pending the holding of the High Level Meeting, set for last November but postponed to February officially because of the coronavirus situation, but that was because three days earlier Donald Trump's administration recognized Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara and announced the opening of an American consulate in that region. The new Biden administration has not reversed this decision which has energized in many quarters a possible solution to the Sahara conflict within the framework of the United Nations.
The investigation of Ghali comes after the Saharawi Association for the Defense of Human Rights (ASADEDH) has filed a brief with the Central Court of Instruction number 5, which is owned by Santiago Pedraz.
The document, distributed to the media, requests the high court, after the news that have appeared, to verify the veracity of the facts and, if necessary, "to take the appropriate statement to the investigated Brahim Ghali and to issue an arrest warrant so as not to evade the action of international justice".
Also the Canary Saharawi Forum has denounced the presence of Brahim Ghali in Spain and, in a statement, asks for responsibilities for what may be an irregular arrival in Spanish territory and demands that "we do not forget that this is a character who for years has avoided setting foot on Spanish soil to avoid the action of justice, with the aggravating factor of the political personality of the person concerned. That this does not mean the exemption or prerogative for his presentation to justice and answer for the alleged serious crimes that are denounced before the Audiencia Nacional".
Brahim Ghali, 73 years old, remains in a serious condition, supposedly under a false identity, in the San Pedro hospital in Logroño, "for humanitarian reasons", according to diplomatic sources, hours after the international media Jeune Afrique reported his admission. This situation was also reported by Atalayar.
Ghali, with serious respiratory problems, is said to have registered under the false name of Mohamed Benbatouch and an Algerian identity, according to various media, in order to avoid problems with the Spanish justice system, which accuses him of human rights violations.
According to Jeune Afrique, the Polisario Front leader has also been suffering from digestive cancer for several years and had previously been hospitalised in Tindouf (Algeria), where he had received a visit from the Algerian Chief of the General Staff, Saïd Chengriha.
Brahim Ghali was indicted in 2016 by the judge of the National Court, José de la Mata, accusing him of committing crimes of genocide, murder, torture and disappearances allegedly committed against the dissident Sahrawi refugee population in the Tindouf camps (Algeria). The judge admitted a complaint filed in November 2012 by the association ASADEDH and three victims against 28 members of the Polisario Front and high-ranking officials of the Algerian government.
Prior to this indictment, the Secretary General of the Polisario Front had planned a visit to Spain. After learning of the summons, he did not travel to Spanish territory, where he was to participate in the International Conference of Support and Solidarity with the Saharawi People in Vilanova i la Geltrú (Barcelona). In this way, he did not appear before the judge in relation to the complaint for alleged human rights violations.
Brahim Ghali was elected secretary general of the Polisario Front in 2016 and holds the post of president of the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) after the death of Mohamed Abdelaziz after almost 40 years in office. SADR is not recognised in Spain or in a large majority of other countries.
This situation threatens to make relations between the government of Pedro Sánchez and Morocco more difficult, when the Spanish and Moroccan nations were due to hold a high-level meeting in December that was postponed and remains without a date
The Polisario Front maintains a bitter confrontation with the Alawi kingdom over the territory of Western Sahara. For decades, the Polisario has been calling for an independence referendum to consult the Saharawis on self-determination for the region; meanwhile, Morocco is offering a solution of territorial autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty, which is the proposal that enjoys the most support in the international arena; Above all, since the recognition of Morocco's sovereignty over Western Sahara by Donald Trump's previous US administration and the opening of several consulates of very important countries such as the US giant itself or the United Arab Emirates in important enclaves such as Dakhla or El Aaiún. All of which has been a great boost for the Moroccan kingdom.
All this comes after weeks of speculation about Ghali's whereabouts and at a very delicate moment for the Polisario, an organisation with practically no international support except from Algeria and a few other nations, in the midst of an armed confrontation with Morocco after the Saharawis broke the 1991 ceasefire in October and after the latest skirmishes at the El Guerguerat pass, which was blocked by Saharawi independence fighters and in the face of which the Moroccan army had to act to unblock the situation.
It was rumoured that Ghali had been wounded on the battlefield or was ill with COVID. But the Jeune Afrique report goes further and claims that he is suffering from serious cancer, in addition to the aforementioned respiratory complications. According to his version, Algeria, which has been hosting Sahrawi independence fighters since 1975, initially tried to send him to Germany, but Angela Merkel's government refused to take him in. The North African country then negotiated with Spain, where Ghali has been under investigation by the Audiencia Nacional for alleged murder and torture of dissidents since 2016.
Algeria's president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, offered health care to Ghali, although Algerian medical personnel were reportedly not sufficient to treat his problems. Ghali had recently visited Algiers, the Polisario Front's main ally and a key supporter against Morocco. During the meeting, held in February, Tebboune and Ghali agreed to work together on common issues affecting them.
Brahim Ghali was one of the founders of the Polisario Front in 1973 and was later elected its first secretary general. One of his first military actions was an attack on the Spanish army. A year later, in 1974, Ghali began leading the Sahrawi National Liberation Army, the military wing of the Polisario Front. Ghali was also present at the first meeting between the Spanish government and the Polisario Front in 1975 after the decolonisation of the Saharan territory. The Polisario leader has held the post of Minister of Defence in the first government of the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, and was the Polisario Front's commander-in-chief and representative in Spain until 2008. Some time later, he was transferred as Sahrawi ambassador to Algeria until 2015. Ghali has been the current secretary general of the Polisario Front since 2016, following the aforementioned death of the previous secretary, Mohamed Abdelaziz.