By Emma Pinedo
MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's High Court rejected on Thursday a request to arrest Western Sahara's independence leader, whose admittance to a Spanish hospital last month angered Morocco, and comes after migrants crossed into Spain's North African enclave of Ceuta.
Brahim Ghali is accused by rights groups of war crimes and must still go through a preliminary hearing, a court spokesman said, part of a wider diplomatic dispute over the Polisario Front, a separatist movement fighting for Western Sahara's independence from Morocco.
Western Sahara is a disputed territory held by Morocco since the mid-1970s. The Algeria-backed Polisario Front has been fighting to secure its independence since then. Before then, the territory was under Spanish control.
The request for Ghali's arrest had been filed by the Saharawi Association for the Defense of Human Rights (Asadeh) and by a Spanish citizen of Saharawi origin, Fadel Breica. He accuses Ghali of alleged torture suffered in his Polisario Front camps in Algeria.
Usually the investigating judge accepts such requests when the court believes there is a flight risk or evidence can be destroyed, experts say.
Ghali will still be called to testify on June 1. Ghali and other leaders of the group are accused by human rights groups of genocide, murder, terrorism, torture and disappearances.
The case in Spain is the first step in an investigation that could lead to a potential trial of the Polisario Front leader and comes after thousands of migrants swam from Morocco into Spain's north African enclave of Ceuta earlier this week.
But Ghali, who is hospitalised under an alias, declined to sign the summons. A source close to the judicial investigation said he might fail to attend as he might be holding an Algerian diplomatic passport, potentially giving him immunity.
Spain agreed to allow Ghali's hospitalisation in Logrono, northern Spain, as a "humanitarian gesture".
Before this week's border crisis, Moroccan authorities had warned Spain of repercussions over Ghali's presence in Spain under a false Algerian passport and an assumed name.
(Reporting by Emma Pinedo; editing by Robin Emmott and Jonathan Oatis)