In protest against Spain’s decision to support a Moroccan autonomy plan for the disputed former Spanish colony of Western Sahara, Algeria has recalled its ambassador to Spain.
The move comes hours after Spain announced that it was endorsing a Moroccan plan for autonomy in the contested Western Sahara region in what Madrid considers the beginning of “a new phase in relations.”
A Foreign Ministry statement condemned the “abrupt about-turn” by Madrid, which had previously maintained neutrality in the decades-old conflict for the territory between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front independence movement.
Madrid noted that the new phase will be “based on mutual respect, the completion of agreements, the absence of unilateral actions and the permanent transparency of communication.”
Western Sahara was balkanised between Morocco and Mauritania at the end of Spanish colonial rule in 1976. When Mauritania, under pressure from Polisario guerrillas, abandoned all claims to its portion in August 1979, Morocco moved to occupy the region and asserted administrative control over the entire territory.
The Polisario responded to the statement from Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares, calling for political pressure to be put on Madrid for a change of heart.
“The United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, the International Court of Justice, the European Court of Justice and all regional organisations do not recognise Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara,” the movement said.
Clashes broke out between Morocco and the pro-independence Polisario Front, an independence movement backed by neighbouring Algeria.
In 1991, a ceasefire was signed. A United Nations mission, MINURSO, was deployed that year to monitor the ceasefire and to organise, if possible, a referendum on the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.
Spain has maintained generally good diplomatic relations with Algeria and imports more than 40 percent of its gas needs from the North African country though a pipeline under the Mediterranean.
However, its relations with Morocco have been more problematic.
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