On 20 April, the Spanish Foreign Ministry and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, the self-declared government led by Ghali, announced that the 73-year-old separatist chief was recovering from COVID-19 in a Spanish hospital. The African media speculated that Ghali, who had been previously investigated by Spain for crimes of genocide and terrorism, was hospitalised under a false identity.
The Spanish Foreign Ministry confirmed to Sputnik that they allowed Ghali into Spain "solely for humanitarian reasons to receive medical assistance". Following the reports, the Spanish ambassador to Rabat was summoned to the Moroccan Foreign Ministry to provide explanations.
However, according to Efe, Morocco has not yet received an explanation from Spain regarding the details of the case and why it chose to withhold the information from Rabat.
Foreign Minister Bourita called the unfolding situation a real test of relations between the two countries and stressed that when Spain faced a "separatist conflict" with Catalonia, Morocco refused to establish contact with the region, Efe said.
"With partners, there should be no manipulations or back-stabbing tactics when it comes to matters important to Morocco. Before taking a step forward in bilateral relations, one must clarify things first", the minister was cited as saying by the news agency.
Polisario Front is an Algeria-backed pro-independence movement from the local Sahrawi population that periodically clashes with Moroccan forces over Western Sahara. The conflict flared up last November, when the Moroccan military launched an operation in the UN-patrolled Guerguerat border zone to clear the territory of alleged Polisario supporters.