Sunday, January 22, 2012

Morocco's Foreign Minister to Visit Algeria

News reports from Rabat, say that Morocco's new foreign minister Saad-Eddine Othmani (pictured left) will visit the Algerian capital Algiers next week. It is an early indication that the new government will continue the efforts of the previous government to normalise ties strained for decades over the disputed Sahara region.

The visit is scheduled to be a short one, lasting only two days, but starting on Monday Saad-Eddine Othmani will hold talks with his Algerian counterpart Foreign Minister, Mourad Medelci and a meeting with the longterm president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

As The View from Fez reported recently, there was a small sign of relations improving, when a judge in the Algerian town of Maghnia agreed to a temporary opening of the Zouj Bghal crossing in order to allow Moroccan cyclists to take part in a cycle race (see our story here).The border between the two countries was closed in 1994 following an Islamist militant attack in Marrakesh in which the involvement of Algerian secret services is widely suspected. Tensions in the border region occasionally flare and a July clash between Moroccan border guards and armed men crossing from Algeria left one soldier dead.

Al Qaeda in El Islamic Maghreb
photo Morocco World News
However, the most serious diplomatic issue between the two countries is the decades-long problem of the Algerian-backed Polisario guerrillas in the Sahara. Morocco's reclaiming of the former Spanish colony in 1975 sparked a war between its forces and Algerian-backed Polisario guerrillas until a ceasefire in 1991.  UN-sponsored talks on Western Sahara's future have since made no headway.

One positive sign that may open the door to progress is the discontent within the Algerian military with the Polisario over infiltration by AQIM (Al Qaeda in El Islamic Maghreb) in the Tindouf refugee camps.

For Foreign Minister Saad-Eddine Othmani, there will be no quick fix. He does, however have the backing of his predecessor, Taeib Fassi Fihri who, back in November said,  "Whatever the differences, it's abnormal not to have a normal relationship with a neighbouring country".


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The day Morocco, as well as Algeria, becomes a democracy, our relationships with plenty of countries will be normalized.