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Morocco hands smuggling suspects to rival Algeria

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Morocco has extradited 12 suspected drug smugglers across a sealed land border to Algeria, a Moroccan official said Tuesday, a rare cooperative move as tensions soar between the regional rivals.

Algiers had in August cut diplomatic relations with Rabat, citing a string of “hostile actions.” Morocco rejected the various accusations.

But Rabat “made efforts to speed up the extradition process and coordinate with Algerian authorities, in keeping with respect for judicial cooperation treaties,” the Moroccan official said, adding that the handover took place on Monday.

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He said the suspects, 11 Algerians and a Mauritanian, had been subject to international arrest warrants issued by Algerian authorities for suspected involvement in narcotics smuggling.

The handover came after the killing last week of three Algerians on a desert highway further raised tensions between the neighbors.

Algeria blamed Morocco for the deaths but an informed source from Morocco said it never targets civilians.

Akram Kharief, editor of Algerian website Mena Defense, said the Algerians were killed along a highway that passes through part of the disputed Western Sahara controlled by the Polisario Front independence movement.

The killings raised fears of an escalation in the conflict.

Strained ties also led Algeria on October 31 to order state energy firm Sonatrach to halt gas exports to Spain through a pipeline that traverses Morocco.

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