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» 22.01.2010 - US transfers two Guantanamo detainees to Algeria
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Algeria | Morocco | Western Sahara
Politics | Economy - Development

Sahara dispute again thwarts Maghreb summit

afrol News, 24 May - Morocco's King Mohammed VI again decided against participating in a North African summit planned for next week due to the Western Sahara conflict. The Moroccan reaction came after Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had repeated his country's well-known support for Western Sahara's self-determination. No Maghreb Union summit has been held since 1994.

It was the closest run to successfully organise a Maghreb summit in a decade. The Libyan host, Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi, was expecting his colleague leaders from Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania to arrive Tripoli within a week. There, the North African leaders were to discuss the revival of the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA), an economic and political union that has been planned for since 1989 but never been implemented.

As on earlier occasions, however, the hostility between the governments of Rabat and Algiers caused a last-minute postponement of the summit. Colonel Ghaddafi had tried to avoid the impasse by securing a softer rhetoric from Morocco and Algeria during the last weeks and avoiding the issue of Western Sahara altogether. This was not enough, it turned out today.

Delegates from the Maghreb countries confirmed that the summit again had been "indefinitely postponed". The postponement came after the Moroccan King told the Libyan leader he would not attend the meeting due to Algeria's new and "surprising official positions" on Western Sahara.

These "surprising official positions," it was learned in Rabat, were a reference to a recent speech by Algerian President Bouteflika, supporting the independence of Western Sahara. Algeria, however, since 1975 has been the main ally of the Polisario, the Sahrawi independence movement fighting the Moroccan occupation of the former Spanish colony.

President Bouteflika on Sunday had congratulated Polisario on its 32nd, as the Algerian leader does every year. Polisario and the majority of Western Sahara's indigenous population is based in Algerian refugee camps close to the border with the territory, and President Bouteflika, as usually, in his speech pledged Algeria's continued support for the independence movement.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Mohamed Benaïssa today strongly deplored the Algerian "obstacles" to the creation of a union of Maghreb states. Algeria had announced "surprising" official positions with regard to the Western Sahara issue, which were "in contradiction with the recent dynamic in the region," according to the Rabat Ministry.

Even according to the Moroccan news agency MAP, controlled by the Royal House, the conflict over Western Sahara "has been among the major obstacles to boosting UMA since its creation in 1989." Since the UMA's 1994 summit in Tunis, the Moroccan King has not want to participate in a new meeting. The UMA is only brought forward by occasional Foreign Minister meetings, which are now to be held in Tripoli.

While the Algerian-Moroccan impasse over the Western Sahara issue is stopping the creating of a Maghreb union, Morocco's unwillingness to consider current the UN peace plan for the territory is threatening to provoke new hostilities. Polisario leader Mohamed Abdelaziz on Saturday spoke to his armed troops in the liberated region of Tifariti, announcing the possibility of soon restarting the armed struggle.

Morocco and Polisario have observed a ceasefire since 1991, which was to lead to a UN-monitored referendum over Western Sahara's independence. No progress has however been made since 1991 and Moroccan King Mohammed VI is now rejecting any peace solution that could lead to the territory's independence.

Polisario leader Abdelaziz therefore warned that that Sahrawi people could not "stay inactive eternally." He denounces Morocco's "dangerous position," which was contrasting the 1991 ceasefire agreement. Polisario would fight to defend the Sahrawis' national rights "with all legitimate means, including armed struggle," Mr Abdelaziz said.

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