Hostility towards Morocco: Bouteflika’s wild card in Algeria power struggle
ALGIERS - Algeria on Tuesday branded as unacceptable comments published by official Moroccan media in response to criticism of its human rights policy in Western Sahara, in the latest barbed exchange between Rabat and Algiers.
The insults by the North African arch-rivals come ahead of a report to be presented to the UN Security Council on Wednesday by special envoy Christopher Ross, who visited the region this month.
In a speech read on his behalf by the justice minister, Algeria's ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said an international mechanism to monitor human rights in the disputed territory was needed "more than ever."
Bouteflika referred to what he called "the massive and systematic human rights violations that take place inside the occupied territories to suppress the peaceful struggle" of the Sahrawis for freedom of expression and association.
Morocco's official MAP news agency had accused Algiers, which backs the pro-independence Polisario Front, of seeking to further "its hegemonic designs in the region".
It also charged that Algeria was trying "to distract attention from the serious rights abuses which take place daily on its territory."
On Saturday, the nationalist Istiqlal party that withdrew from Morocco's coalition government earlier this year called on the authorities "to recover territory in the southeast that Algeria took by force and which notably includes Tindouf" in western Algeria.
The Algerian president's call for a mechanism to protect Sahrawi rights follows a US proposal in April, angrily rejected by Morocco and later dropped, to task the UN peacekeeping force in the Western Sahara with a human rights monitoring mandate.
Observers said that Bouteflika's speech to the participants at the so-called " African Conference of Solidarity with the Sahrawi Cause” was a "provocative and inflammatory” message against Morocco.
Abdul Rahim Manar Al Salimi, Head of the Maghreb Centre for Security Studies and Policy Analysis, described the speech of the Algerian President as an "direct Algerian incitement against the unity of the Moroccan territory," adding that "the interesting aspect is the shift in Algeria’s strategy from the public funding and mobilisation of some of the African Union governments against Morocco to direct provocation.”
Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975, and has proposed broad autonomy for the territory under its sovereignty.
But this is rejected by the Polisario guerrillas, who are based in the western Algerian city of Tindouf and fought Moroccan troops for a decade and half until the United Nations negotiated a ceasefire in 1991.