Polisario Chief Leaves Spain After Stay That Roiled Morocco Ties

The leader of the group fighting for independence in disputed Western Sahara departed Spain after his presence ignited the country’s most serious diplomatic and migration crisis with Morocco in two decades.

Polisario Front chief Brahim Ghali was set to fly out from a small airport in the northern city of Pamplona, Spain’s Foreign Ministry said late Tuesday, adding that Morocco had been informed. Spanish online newspaper elDiario.es reported he left on a plane bound for Algeria.

Ghali’s arrival in Spain for medical treatment in April convulsed relations between two countries whose cooperation has been instrumental to controlling the flow of irregular migrants into Europe.

Polisario and Morocco had resumed fighting in November after the collapse of a ceasefire the United Nations brokered in 1991. Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony that’s claimed by Rabat.

Last month a record-breaking number of mostly Moroccan migrants entered an adjoining small Spanish territory. In just 48 hours, nearly 10,000 people, including children, swam or used makeshift boats to cross to Ceuta, a 18.5 square kilometer enclave perched on the top of north Africa.

Morocco’s ambassador to Madrid, Karima Benyaich, was summoned by the Spanish Foreign Ministry, and her statement that “actions have consequences” suggested the migrant influx was a deliberate act of retaliation for the hosting of Ghali.

The kingdom has become more intransigent over what it perceives as European unwillingness to fully back its claims over Western Sahara since former U.S. President Donald Trump in December recognized Rabat’s sovereignty.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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