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Morocco says Madrid seeks to ‘Europeanize’ its political crisis with Rabat

Published: Updated:

Morocco’s foreign minister on Wednesday accused Spain of trying to turn a political crisis between the two countries into an EU problem by focusing on migration and ignoring the root causes.

The row blew up in April after Spain admitted the leader of the Western Sahara independence movement, Brahim Ghali, for medical treatment without informing Rabat, which regards the disputed territory as its own.

Morocco then appeared to relax border controls with Spain’s North African enclave of Ceuta on May 17, leading to an influx of at least 8,000 migrants.

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Since then Spain and Morocco have traded accusations of violating good neighborliness, with Spain saying Morocco used the migrants while Rabat says Spain acted in connivance with “adversaries” of its territorial integrity.

“Spain tries to Europeanize the crisis in order to derail attention away away from the deep causes” of the dispute, Moroccan foreign minister Nasser Bourita told a news conference in Rabat following talks with Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto.

Spain “cannot fight separatism at home and encourage it in its neighbor,” he said, referring to independence movements in Catalonia and other Spanish regions.

Morocco’s ties with the EU were good, Bourita added.

Ghali’s Algeria-backed Polisario Front is fighting for the independence of Western Sahara, a territory once held by Spain and under Moroccan control since the 1970s.

The United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991, with Morocco controlling about four-fifths of the territory. The truce included the promise of a referendum on its status, but that has not taken place due to disagreements over how it should be carried out and who would be allowed to vote.

In Madrid on Wednesday, Spanish foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said Spain supported a solution to the Western Sahara conflict in line with UN Security Council resolutions.

“Spain’s position...will not change because it rests on inalienable principles - the defense of multilateralism and the respect of international legality,” she told members of parliament.

A migrant minor sits by the road after refusing to enter a facility prepared for migrants, near the Spanish-Moroccan border, after thousands of migrants swam across this border during the last days, in Ceuta, Spain, May 21, 2021. (Reuters/Jon Nazca)
A migrant minor sits by the road after refusing to enter a facility prepared for migrants, near the Spanish-Moroccan border, after thousands of migrants swam across this border during the last days, in Ceuta, Spain, May 21, 2021. (Reuters/Jon Nazca)

Bourita’s statement came as the European Parliament plans to discuss a draft resolution that says Morocco used minors and migrants in the dispute with Spain.

At the height of the migrant influx in Ceuta, the European Union expressed solidarity with Spain, saying that the enclave’s border was a European border. Repeated waves of migrants crossing from Africa into Europe have been a prime concern for the bloc for several years.

Ghali left Spain for Algeria on June 3 after spending more than a month in hospital. He departed after appearing remotely in a hearing with Spanish high court on a war crimes case. The judges allowed him to leave the country.

Read more:

Spain says over 6,500 migrants from wave of arrivals in Ceuta sent back to Morocco

Morocco’s action in pushing migrants across border was unacceptable, says Spanish PM

Morocco warns Spain ties could worsen over Polisario