Morocco: Govt Suspends Spain Cooperation Over Western Sahara Dispute

Thousands of Sahrawi refugees live in the region of Tindouf, Algeria, in the heart of the desert, in four refugee camps (file photo).

Algeria has suspended a 20-year-old cooperation treaty with Spain after Madrid reversed decades of neutrality on the Western Sahara conflict.

"Algeria has decided to immediately suspend the treaty of friendship, good neighbourliness and cooperation" signed with Madrid in 2002, the presidency said in a statement on Wednesday.

In March, to end a dipolomatic spat, Spain had publicly recognised an autonomoy plan for Western Sahara put forward by Morocco, which controls 80 percent of the disputed territory.

The rest is held by the Algerian-backed Polisario movement, which fought a 15-year war with Morocco after Spanish forces withdrew in 1975 and demands a referendum on independence.

Morocco has offered limited autonomy but insists the phosphate and fisheries-rich territory must remain under its sovereignty.

Algeria said Wednesday that Spain's recognising the plan had been "in violation of its legal, moral and political obligations" towards Western Sahara.

In response, it suspended a deal meant to promote dialogue and cooperation with Spain on political, economic, financial, education and defence issues.

Algeria suspends 2002 friendship treaty with Spain over its position on Western Sahara which it says undermines the UN's efforts, is illegal and adds to the deterioration of the situation in the region. https://t.co/Y3sAn5coLy

Wednesday's move reflects Spain's complex challenge of balancing relations with arch-rivals Morocco and Algeria, which in August last year broke off diplomatic ties with Rabat over "hostile acts".

Diplomatic dispute

Spain officially endorsed Morocco's position on Western Sahara in March in order to help resolve a year-long diplomatic dispute after it had admitted the Polisario's leader Ibrahim Ait Ghali to be treated for Covid-19.

Weeks after Ghali's hospitalisation, more than 10,000 migrants arrived in Spain's tiny North African enclave of Ceuta, on the north coast of Morocco, and Moroccan border forces looked the other way - a move seen as putting pressure Madrid.

In April Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez travelled to Morocco on an official visit to patch up ties, after his government backed the Western Sahara autonomy plan.

Algiers said Wednesday that Madrid, by doing so, had "given its full support to an illegal and illegitimate formula... advocated by the occupying power".

Spain's position is complicated by the fact that it depends partly on Algeria for natural gas.

That dependence that has become more acute due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but also because Algeria in October last year stopped pumping gas to Spain through a pipeline traversing Morocco.

Algeria and Morocco have seen months of tensions since Morocco re-established ties with Israel in December 2020 in exchange for Washington also recognising Rabat's sovereignty over Western Sahara.

That came just weeks after the Polisario had declared a 1991 ceasefire null and void, and stepped up attacks on Moroccan forces.

(With AFP)

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