WSahara Polisario releases policeman held for spying: UNHCR

4th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

The UN refugee agency confirmed on Saturday that Western Saharan independence movement the Polisario Front had freed a policeman it detained on accusations of spying for arch-enemy Morocco.

"I can confirm that we accompanied him to Mauritania and that he is fine," said Sybella Wilkes, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in an email to AFP.

Mostapha Selma Ould Sidi Mouloud, an inspector general of police, was detained on September 21 at Mheriz in Western Sahara, near the Mauritanian border.

A support group of French lawyers, which had reported his release to the UNHCR on Friday, urged the international community to keep watch over his family and ensure that he could remain in touch with them.

The Algerian-backed Polisario Front said last month that it had decided to free the policeman "in response to the request of international human rights organisations."

He had been due to be tried for treason to the state declared by the Polisario in 1976.

In August, Mostapha Selma said he favoured dialogue between Morocco and Western Sahara on the basis of Rabat's autonomy plan for the former Spanish colony it annexed in 1975.

The 42-year-old added that he would defend the plan to the 100,000 Sahrawi refugees living in camps in Tindouf, Algeria. The French lawyers group said Algeria had refused to allow him there.

Advocacy group Human Rights Watch had called for his release if his arrest was motivated by his vocal support for Morocco's autonomy plan.

Morocco's foreign ministry had welcomed the announcement of Mostapha Selma's release on October 6.

It added, "If the Polisario Front wants to show that they are not persecuting Selma for his views, it should free him immediately or ensure that he receives a fair and transparent trial on credible charges."

Morocco's annexation of the Western Sahara after Spain gave it up sparked a war between its forces and the Polisario guerrillas.

The two sides agreed to a ceasefire in 1991 but UN-sponsored talks on Western Sahara's future have since made no headway.

Rabat has pledged to grant Western Sahara widespread autonomy but rules out independence.

The Polisario Front, with the support of Algiers, wants a referendum on self-determination, with independence as one of the options.

© 2010 AFP

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