Morocco-Algeria clash mars Maghreb union summit

A summit aimed at kick-starting Maghreb economic integration was disrupted Sunday when Moroccan and Algerian government ministers clashed over the disputed Western Sahara region.

Morocco-Algeria clash mars Maghreb union summit
The Arab Maghreb Union, founded in 1989, had not met since 1994, mainly due to a dispute between Morocco and Algeria over the status of the coastal territory, despite recent United Nations mediation with its Polisario independence movement.

The summit -- which also involves Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania -- marked the 50th anniversary of a Tangiers conference which first called for a Maghreb union, and was supposed to be about issues such as a joint currency and removing frontier controls.

But it quickly descended into a row between these two protagonists, with Moroccan state minister and socialist leader Mohamed El Yazghi calling on Algeria President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to "support the Moroccan plan to drag the (Western) Sahara case out of its impasse."

Algerian Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem quickly hit back, saying that Algiers has backed "just causes" and independence movements in Mozambique, Angola "and even within its neighbours" -- a reference to the Polisario in Western Sahara, which borders Morocco and Algeria to the south.

As he spoke, Belkhadem was interrupted by chants of "Moroccan Sahara" which forced Morocco's Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi to intervene.

Morocco annexed West Sahara in the 1970s following the withdrawal of Spain, sparking a war with the Polisario. The two sides agreed a ceasefire in 1991, but a promised self-determination referendum never materialized.

The border between Morocco and Algeria has been closed since a 1994 attack in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh blamed by Rabat on Algerian security services.

The summit is also discussing cooperation -- even across closed borders -- on drug trafficking and illegal emigration to Europe.

El Fassi said open borders were a necessity to "accelerate the rhythm of the Maghreb's construction into a common area where development, peace and stability" could reign.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 28 Nisan 2008, 14:08