Algeria-Morocco tensions flare over border shooting

Algeria charged on Sunday that Rabat was misrepresenting the facts a day after Morocco

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Tensions flared Sunday between Algeria and Morocco after Rabat accused an Algerian soldier of firing on Moroccan civilians across their joint border and seriously wounding one of them.

Algeria charged on Sunday that Rabat was misrepresenting the facts a day after Morocco had summoned the Algerian ambassador to “vigorously protest” about the shooting.

The borders between the two North African neighbors have been closed since 1994, and relations have been tense mainly because of a dispute over Western Sahara.

The Moroccan government said in a statement that an Algerian soldier on Saturday opened fire on a dozen civilians along the border near the northeastern city of Oujda.

One of them, a 28-year-old, was hit in the face by three bullets and “seriously wounded”, said the statement.

It described the shooting as “a grave incident” and “an irresponsible act that comes on top of other provocative acts... along the border.”

The foreign ministry summoned the Algerian ambassador to demand explanations while Interior Minister Mohamed Hassad said the soldier should be “brought to justice”, said Morocco's MAP news agency.

But on Sunday the Algerian foreign ministry hit back, saying Rabat's allegations were “false”.

A statement acknowledged that Algerian border guards had fired “two warning shots in the air” after coming under attack from “Moroccan smugglers who pelted them with stones”.

“The border guards... reacted professionally by firing two warning shots in the air which can in no way cause anyone to be injured,” the ministry said.

The “facts have been manipulated and the declarations of Moroccan officials... reflect an irresponsible attitude which does not fit with the values of fraternity and good neighborly relations,” it said.

Western Sahara has been a thorn in relations between Morocco and Algeria.

Morocco occupied much of Western Sahara in 1975 after former colonial power Spain withdrew but the territory is claimed by the pro-independence Algerian-backed Polisario Front.

The dispute has hindered the work of the five-nation Arab Maghreb Union -- which also includes Libya, Tunisia and Mauritania -- created in 1989 as a trade bloc.

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