Algeria says it seeks to mend ties with Morocco

Sunday 20/11/2016
A September 2016 file photo of Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal attending the opening session of the 15th International Energy Forum in Algiers. (AFP)

Casablanca - Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said Algiers was ready to set­tle its differences with neighbouring Morocco but Moroccan analysts and politi­cians said his words must be backed by deeds.
“Morocco is a neighbouring and brotherly country. We have some outstanding disagreements. There is a divergence of vision. In Algeria, we prefer a global approach and a direct dialogue to resolve all issues, especially when it comes to specific issues and our country is ready to settle them in a serious and peace­ful manner,” Sellal said in an inter­view with the Arab daily Asharq al- Awsat.
A Moroccan official source, who requested anonymity, told The Arab Weekly that Morocco had always wanted to mend ties with Algeria.
“Algiers has to walk the walk. Its goodwill to settle its differences with Rabat is a good thing but must be backed by concrete acts and pos­itive signs,” said the source.
Sellal’s interview with the Lon­don-based Saudi newspaper came days before his visit to Saudi Arabia, a staunch ally of Morocco.
Nabil Adel, director of the Research Institute of Geopolitics and Geo-economics at ESCA School of Management in Casablanca, said he was not surprised by Sellal’s dec­laration “which is not something new”.
“Algeria’s positions have not evolved. There has to be something concrete behind the declarations of Algerian politicians,” said Adel.
“Are we going to talk about the opening of the borders? Are we go­ing to talk about Algeria’s position regarding the Western Sahara issue? Or are they going to be general dec­larations without bringing real ac­tion?” he asked.
Sellal said the question of West­ern Sahara was the subject of a political process of negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front on the principle of the right to self-determination.
“My country supports this pro­cess and respects it and hopes for an early conclusion of the negotiations and a final and fair solution to this conflict,” he said.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish territory, in 1975. Polisario Front guerrillas be­gan an armed conflict with Morocco for an independent state that lasted until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991.
Rabat has proposed a form of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty for the vast territory, which has fewer than 1 million inhabitants. The proposal was rejected by the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, which insists on the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determina­tion in a UN-monitored vote.
Adel said the aim of Sellal’s dec­laration was to “break the ice espe­cially at a time when many African countries are turning their back on the Polisario Front following Mo­rocco’s improved ties with many nations in the African continent”.
Mountacir Zian, director-general of the Mediterranean Company of Analysis and Strategic Intelligence, said “Algeria will cease to finance the separatist movement sooner or later because the low oil prices are taking their toll on its economy.”
Algeria’s revenues have shrunken sharply over the past two years as oil prices fell from record highs. Its 2017 budget which foresees tax hikes and salary freezes to offset a plunge in its oil revenues has an­gered teachers and medical workers who are threatening to go on strike.
Sellal’s statement came as Al­gerian army Chief of Staff General Gaid Salah supervised military ma­noeuvres in South-Tindouf that seek “the offensive in movement”, a statement from the Algerian De­fence Ministry said.
It is the second live-fire exer­cise in a single year by the Algerian Army at the southern border zone with Morocco.
Zian said the fact that Algeria mo­bilised its army on its border with Morocco was part of Algiers’ psy­chological warfare.