Algeria Closes Airspace to All Moroccan Planes As Western Sahara Dispute Deepens

(file photo).

Algeria has closed its airspace to all Moroccan planes due to "provocations and hostile practices" by its neighbour, in the latest dispute between the countries at odds mainly over Western Sahara.

Wednesday's move comes after Algiers broke off diplomatic ties with Rabat on 24 August, accusing it of "hostile actions" following months of heightened tensions between the two North African countries.

Morocco called the severing of ties "completely unjustified" and said the decision was based on "false, even absurd pretexts".

Relations between the countries have been tense for decades due to Algeria's support for the Polisario Front, which demands a self-determination referendum in Western Sahara.

Morocco, which controls around 80 percent of the desert territory, has offered only autonomy.

The Algerian presidency said in a statement on Wednesday the decision had been made "to shut its airspace immediately to all civilian and military aircraft as well as to those registered in Morocco."

The decision was announced after a meeting of the High Security Council chaired by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

The presidency said the meeting examined the situation on Algeria's border with Morocco and took into account "the continuation of provocations and hostile practices by Morocco", without providing details.

The decision will not have a major immediate effect because Algeria closed off air links in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, reopening to seven countries in June -- of which Morocco was not one.

'Make wisdom prevail'

In July, Morocco's King Mohammed VI deplored the tensions and invited Algeria's President Abdelmadjid Tebboune "to make wisdom prevail" and "work in unison for the development of relations" between the neighbouring countries.

Earlier this month, more than 200 Moroccan and Algerian civil society figures appealed for a "return to reason" after Algiers' decision to cut diplomatic ties.

Intellectuals, academics and other civil society actors, most of them Moroccan, signed a petition rejecting the "current situation which could lead to an unnatural confrontation... contrary to the interests of the two peoples and the region".

Algeria is the key foreign backer of the Polisario Front, which has for decades fought Morocco for the independence of Western Sahara.

Morocco sees the former Spanish colony as an integral part of its territory.

The desert region boasts significant phosphate resources and a long Atlantic coastline with access to rich fishing waters.

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