Morocco's king urges Algeria to normalise ties

It is the first time this year that King Mohammed appealed directly Algiers to re-open the border and mend ties.

Morocco's king urges Algeria to normalise ties
Morocco's King Mohammed called on Algeria on Wednesday to normalise ties between the North African neighbours, saying their closed border was a "collective sanction" for the two peoples.

Government officials in Rabat have been urging Algeria to improve relations since Morocco and Western Sahara's Polisario independence movement, backed by Algeria, ended a fourth round of talks near New York in March without narrowing differences on Africa's longest-running territorial dispute.

But it is the first time this year that King Mohammed appealed directly Algiers to re-open the border and mend ties.

Morocco's government regards thawing ties with Algeria as the key to ending the deadlock over the dispute with Polisario.

"We will pursue efforts to take initiatives in all sincerity and listen to all efforts of good will so as to restore normal relations between Morocco and Algeria," Mohammed said in a speech marking the ninth anniversary of him coming to the throne. Algeria closed the border in 1994 after Rabat accused its security forces of involvement in a Marrakesh hotel shooting.

Algerian leaders have repeatedly said the border would remain shut until the two governments agreed on a "package of deals" that include a solution to the Western Sahara conflict as well as measures to fight jointly terrorism and drugs smuggling.

Morocco took control of most of Western Sahara in 1975 when colonial Spain withdrew, prompting a guerrilla war for independence that lasted until 1991 when the United Nations brokered a ceasefire and sent in peacekeepers.

The desert territory with a population of 260,000 on Africa's Atlantic coast has phosphates, rich fisheries and, potentially, offshore oil.

Rabat is trying to encourage the Polisario to accept its plan for Western Sahara to be an autonomous part of Morocco.

Polisario proposes a referendum among ethnic Sahrawis that includes an option of independence.

No state recognises Morocco's rule over Western Sahara but the U.N. Security Council is divided. Some non-aligned states back Polisario but powers like France and the United States support Morocco. "Whatever the differences of view over this conflict, they would not justify the continuing closure of the border. This unilateral measure is experienced as a collective sanction incompatible with historic brotherly links and at odds with the requirement of a common future and the necessity of the integration of the Maghreb region," Mohammed said.

Moroccan officials and economists say Morocco has been losing up to $1 billion per year in trade and tourism revenue because of the closed border.

In Algiers, government officials have dismissed Rabat's assertion that the closure hindered movements of goods and people between the countries, saying that Morocco is Algeria's biggest trade partner in the Maghreb region despite the land border shutdown.

Reuters
Last Mod: 31 Temmuz 2008, 16:37
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