Morocco to press U.S. for sup­port in Sa­hara

Coun­try in land dis­pute with Al­ge­ria

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY PAUL SCHEMM

RA­BAT, MOROCCO | A Sa­ha­ran stand­off may be­come a U.S. prob­lem.

A nasty spat be­tween Al­ge­ria and Morocco over the dis­puted re­gion of Western Sa­hara has boiled over anew, as Morocco re­called its am­bas­sador, an­gry pro­test­ers tore down an Al­ge­rian flag, and a Moroc­can mag­a­zine called for land grabs.

When Morocco’s King Mo­hammed VI meets with Pres­i­dent Obama dur­ing his U.S. visit next week, the monarch will be look­ing for U.S. sup­port as Morocco feuds with ri­val Al­ge­ria. The neigh­bors are jock­ey­ing for po­si­tion in a dis­pute that leaves lit­tle space for the co­op­er­a­tion against al Qaeda in North Africa that Wash­ing­ton and its al­lies want.

Morocco has long made gain­ing in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion for its 1975 an­nex­a­tion of the for­mer Span­ish ter­ri­tory on Africa’s At­lantic coast a top diplo­matic pri­or­ity. With Al­ge­ria back­ing the in­de­pen­dence move­ment, the two coun­tries have been at log­ger­heads for decades.

Last month, Morocco tem­po­rar­ily re­called its am­bas­sador — a ma­jor es­ca­la­tion that one for­mer Al­ge­rian diplo­mat called an at­tempt to gain U.S. back­ing for its claim to Western Sa­hara.

“It was sur­pris­ing and dis­pro­por­tion­ate,” Ab­de­laziz Ra­habi told The As­so­ci­ated Press, ar­gu­ing that the move was de­signed to dom­i­nate the sched­uled visit of Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry this week that has since been post­poned.

The U.S. pri­or­ity in­creas­ingly has fo­cused on fight­ing ter­ror­ism, with al Qaeda’s North Africa branch mor­ph­ing into a Sa­hara-span­ning group with a pres­ence from the bor­ders of Morocco to Libya.

With the two most pow­er­ful mil­i­taries in the re­gion at each other’s throats, build­ing any kind of re­gional co­op­er­a­tion — es­pe­cially to sup­port weaker states such as Niger, Mau­ri­ta­nia and Chad — has been im­pos­si­ble.

Morocco has pro­posed wide-rang­ing au­ton­omy for Western Sa­hara, but the Polis­ario Front, the pro-in­de­pen­dence na­tion­al­ist move­ment, in­sists that lo­cal peo­ple have the right to a ref­er­en­dum on the ter­ri­tory’s fu­ture as set out in a 1991 U.N.-bro­kered cease-fire agree­ment that ended 15 years of fight­ing.

Al­ge­ria has backed the Polis­ario’s claims and pro­vides the group with a haven.

It says it supports the prin­ci­ple of self- de­ter­mi­na­tion; Morocco says it is just a ploy for re­gional dom­i­na­tion.

Morocco with­drew its am­bas­sador Oct. 30 for four days of con­sul­ta­tion af­ter Al­ge­ria re­it­er­ated its stance that a U.N. ob­server mis­sion in the re­gion should in­clude hu­man rights mon­i­tor­ing.

Morocco has been un­der fire from hu­man rights groups that say abuse is wide­spread, but it sees such a move as a threat to its sovereignty.

Part of the prob­lem for Morocco is that Al­ge­ria and the Polis­ario Front have the force of in­ter­na­tional law on their side and so Morocco has to strug­gle harder to ex­plain its po­si­tion.

It also has to deal with the fact that the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil in­creas­ingly is con­sid­er­ing the is­sue of hu­man rights.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.