Algeria said Thursday it considers as “unjustified” a decision by Morocco to recall its ambassador in response to comments by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika about disputed Western Sahara.
The spat follows the latest barbed exchange between the North African neighbours whose decades-old rivalry centres on the disputed territory, annexed by Morocco in 1975 in a move never recognised by the international community.
“This is an unjustified decision, amounting to an unfortunate escalation based on spurious motives, and detrimental to the sovereignty of Algeria,” a foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement sent to AFP.
But despite its protest, Algiers said it would keep its diplomats in Morocco.
Rabat said on Wednesday its decision followed “a growing number of provocative and hostile acts by Algeria towards the kingdom,” notably regarding “regional differences over the Moroccan Sahara.”
It highlighted a speech by Bouteflika at a meeting in Abuja on Monday in which he said an international mechanism to monitor human rights in Western Sahara was needed “more than ever.”
In his speech, Bouteflika referred to “massive and systematic human rights violations that take place inside the occupied territories to suppress the peaceful struggle” of the Sahrawi people for freedom of expression and association.
In Rabat, the Communications Minister Mustapha Khelfi told reporters Thursday that Bouteflika had lost all sense of “neutrality” by characterising Morocco as an “occupier.”
The latest developments come as a report is due to be presented to the U.N. Security Council by special envoy Christopher Ross, who visited the region this month in a new bid to push for a peaceful resolution to the frozen conflict.
Rabat has proposed broad autonomy for the phosphate-rich territory under its sovereignty.
This is rejected by the pro-independence Polisario Front, who are based in the western Algerian city of Tindouf and fought Moroccan troops for a decade and half until the United Nations negotiated a ceasefire in 1991.
The Algerian foreign ministry said it hopes the “unfortunate” dispute between the two neighbors would be “contained... and quickly overcome.”
Algeria says Morocco decision to recall envoy unjustified