RABAT (AFP) – The Algeria-Morocco border, closed for two decades amid deadlock over the Western Sahara, is a pressing issue that could be resolved soon, Algerian Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kablia said on Sunday.
“The opening of the borders is a critical issue. If we can speed up the negotiations process… (it) could be resolved in the near future,” Kablia told a news conference in Rabat, after a meeting on regional security of interior ministers from the Arab Maghreb Union.
Kablia said recent meetings with his Moroccan counterpart Mohand Laenser, who visited Algiers earlier this month, sent a “strong signal” on thawed relations, and helped create an environment “conducive” to progress on the issue.
The vast desert border between the two countries has been closed since 1994 following an attack in Marrakesh which Morocco blamed on Algerian intelligence.
Western powers, most recently France’s President Francois Hollande during a visit to Morocco earlier this month, have sought to pressure the north African neighbours into reopening their common frontier to boost trade and cooperation.
Algeria and Morocco have been at odds over the Western Sahara since Rabat occupied the former Spanish colony in 1975, in a move not recognised by the international community, with Algiers backing the pro-independence Polisario Front.
Kablia’s conciliatory comments came despite mounting ill-feeling in Morocco over US plans to broaden the scope of the UN mission in the disputed region to include human rights monitoring.
The proposal has prompted a furious response from Rabat, with the foreign ministry saying on Friday that it threatened the peace process and labelling the Polisario Front a “terrorist organisation.”
Asked how long Algeria would continue to support the Polisario Front, which is based in its western Tindouf region, Kablia avoided the question, saying merely that Algiers was “not a party to the conflict,” which should be resolved through UN mediation.