GRANADA, Spain — EU president Herman Van Rompuy called on Morocco during a summit Sunday to make progress in respecting human rights, including in the disputed Western Sahara region.
Van Rompuy said during the EU-Morocco summit that the European Union supported UN efforts “for a just, lasting and mutually acceptable solution” in the area, where some activists demand independence.
“We also wish for improvements to the situation of human rights and their defenders on this issue,” he said in Spain’s southern city of Granada.
He appeared to be referring mainly to the case of Western Sahara activist Aminatou Haidar who held a 32-day hunger strike last year at an airport on Spain’s Canary Islands after Moroccan authorities denied her entry.
Morocco has also been accused by Human Rights Watch of cracking down on people who question the monarchy and Islam.
Van Rompuy said at a press conference at the end of the summit, the first between the EU bloc and the Arab country, that he had sent a “clear and unequivocal message” to Morocco about this demand.
Led by Haidar, several hundred Polisario backers held a counter-summit in Granada.
Demonstrators criticised the European Union’s 2008 offer to Morocco of “advanced status” relations, which makes the country a privileged partner of the 27-nation bloc particularly on trade.
Morocco in 1975 annexed the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, sparking a war between its forces and Algerian-backed Polisario guerrillas.
The two sides agreed to a ceasefire in 1991 but the UN-sponsored talks on Western Sahara’s future have since made no headway with Rabat pledging widespread autonomy for the region, but ruling out independence.
The Polisario Front wants a referendum on self-determination, with independence as one of the options.
Moroccan Prime Minister Abbas el Fassi told the same press conference that his country’s territorial integrity could not be “destroyed because of one or two cases”.
He also claimed that 85 percent of people in Western Sahara valued their Moroccan nationality.
The leader criticised the role of Algeria, which supports the Polisario Front, and urged the country’s European partners not to practise double standards.
He accused the Algerian military of “constantly violating human rights” in refugee camps for people from Western Sahara in Tindouf, southern Algeria, where he said there was no freedom of speech or movement.
The Moroccan side also pressed the EU to quickly ratify an agreement negotiated in December to free up agriculture trade between Europe and Morocco, which has some farmers in France and Spain up in arms.
“Given the importance of the new agriculture agreement… Morocco … regrets the delay in its implementation,” King Mohammed VI said in a written speech delivered at the summit in his absence.
European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters after the summit that the pact’s ratification hinged on “a favourable vote by the European Parliament” which sets its own agenda.
Some 2,000 Andalusian farmers protested on Sunday in Granada against the agreement, which calls for total customs levies on Moroccan farm products to be cut by 55 percent.