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Diplomacy urged as activist Haidar hunger strike continues

By Al Goodman, CNN
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Activist on hunger strike
  • Aminatou Haidar has been on hunger strike for over three weeks
  • Haidar denied entry to Morocco for refusing to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara
  • Spanish authorities considering force feeding Haidar
  • Morocco
  • Western Sahara

Madrid, Spain (CNN) -- With each passing day, she looks a little weaker.

Western Sahara independence activist Aminatou Haidar's hunger strike has lasted more than three weeks at the airport on Spain's Lanzarote Island situated in the Atlantic Ocean, just a short distance from her homeland.

"My demand is to return to Western Sahara, with or without a passport, alive or dead" Haidar said at a news conference Thursday. She says she wants to go home to live with her children, "but in dignity."

But Haidar is at the center of an international diplomatic crisis. Haidar refuses to recognize Morocco's sovereignty over Western Sahara.

After receiving a human rights award last month in New York, she flew home but she says Moroccan authorities took her passport and refused her entry.

She ended up at the nearby Spanish airport and started her hunger strike.

"The Spanish government should respond to this situation it has created. The Spanish government hasn't done enough yet," Haidar said.

Spain offered her Spanish citizenship or political asylum. She declined. But a senior Moroccan government official, Khalihenna Ould Errachid said there's an easy solution.

"I say that Aminatou Haidar should return to her Moroccan nationality and say it clearly, and tomorrow she can return, without problem."

Haidar's hunger strike has put the spotlight again on a thorny political problem: the status of Western Sahara.

The former Spanish colony is claimed by Morocco, which has an autonomy plan for it.

But the armed Polisario Front wants independence, and openly fought Morocco until a UN-brokered cease fire in 1991.

Since then, a UN-organized referendum on the territory's final status has been repeatedly postponed. The old stalemate now gains urgency with each passing day.

Spanish officials are debating whether to force feed Haidar her to keep her alive.

Her lawyer has threatened to take legal steps to block such a move.

"What I know is that no one can pressure me or feed me against my will," Haidar said.

Her plight has attracted widespread attention across Europe. Members of European Parliament have visited her, and top Spanish artists, including film director Pedro Almodovar, are showing their support too.

Some people in Spain want King Juan Carlos to intercede with Morocco's King, but the Socialist government for now is pursuing other solutions.

The United Nations and the European Union are showing interest. But the question is, will a diplomatic solution be found in time? And how much longer can Aminatou Haidar hold out.