North African Unity Impeded by Morocco-Algeria Border Dispute

Article Summary
A push by the Arab Maghreb Union to open borders between countries across North Africa has met resistance from Algeria and Morocco, who have a long-standing feud over the disputed Western Sahara territory. Western Saharan independence group Polisario is also threatening new attacks.

The Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) heads of state summit is expected to adopt a proposed draft declaration that would recommend the reopening of borders among Arab Maghreb countries. However, Algeria has expressed reservations regarding this recommendation.

Yesterday, the Algerian newspaper El-Khabar quoted a government source as saying that Algeria has decided to voice its reservations on the proposal — which is backed by Morocco — adding that border issues must be addressed bilaterally.

The newspaper pointed out that Algeria closed its land border with Morocco in 1994, after the latter had accused Algerian secret services of planning the hotel bombing in Rabat which resulted in the killing of two Spanish tourists. It was later on proven that Algeria had nothing to do with this incident. 

The source said that, aside from the AMU parliament, involved parties had yet to make significant progress on the summit's agenda. The source added that Algeria has formally expressed its reservations on the declaration recommending the reopening of the Morocco-Algeria land border under a chapter stipulating the easy movement of individuals between the AMU countries.

Mohammad Abdel Aziz, secretary-general of the Polisario Front, said that the group may once again engage in legitimate war against Morocco.

On Friday, a Spanish newspaper quoted Abdel Aziz as saying that the fact that Rabat is impeding talks is making an armed struggle more likely than before.

Abdel Aziz told the newspaper that a return to military action remains on the front’s agenda, and that it could decide to do this at any moment. He continued by saying that given the UN’s recognition of the Polisario’s right to use weapons in defending its territory against any foreign invasion, this war becomes both morally and legally legitimate.

Abdel Aziz also accused Morocco of impeding the Western Sahara talks, after the Moroccan government said it no longer had confidence in the UN's envoy to Western Sahara, Christopher Ross. He added that Morocco’s unwillingness to compromise put the credibility of UN resolutions at stake. This statement comes a few weeks after Polisario Defense Minister Mohamed Lamine Bouhal declared that going to war against Morocco is a serious possibility. He also added that force-based strategies are a vital and necessary part of the front’s defense against any imminent danger.

Concerning France’s role in the matter, following the victory of socialist Francois Hollande over right-wing Nicolas Sarkozy — who has been viewed as siding with Morocco — Abdel Aziz said that he hoped Paris would change its stance regarding what he considers “international legitimacy.” He also stated that the Polisario may return to an armed struggle. Talks remain frozen following Morocco's rejection of UN envoy Ross, after they accused him of adopting a biased approach. Furthermore, the UN is having a difficult time finding a replacement for Ross, and the Sahara issue is currently in the UN secretary-general’s office. This represents another turning point in the 30-year conflict. Sources close to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon say that they cannot rule out the possibility of the secretary-general himself directly supervising Morocco-Polisario negotiations.

The Western Sahara conflict has reached a critical point. Morocco is demanding that UN Envoy Christopher Ross discontinue his mission, accusing him of favoring Algeria, while the Polisario is threatening to resume its war in the Sahara since an initiative to break the deadlock has not been launched. Speaking to the defense and foreign commission in the AMU parliament, Moroccan Foreign Minister Saad Eddine Othmani said that the Sahara issue has recently witnessed a number of developments and admitted that Washington has criticized Morocco’s decision to withdraw confidence from UN special envoy Ross.

Found in: polisario front, mohammad abdel aziz, arab maghreb union, arab maghreb, arab

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