ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algeria formally broke off diplomatic relations with neighboring Morocco on Tuesday, with the foreign minister citing a series of alleged hostile acts.
The move culminates a period of growing tension between the North African countries which are mired in a decades-long feud, with their borders closed to each other. There was no immediate reaction from Morocco.
“Algeria has decided to break diplomatic relations with Morocco starting today,” Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra said at a news conference, in which he read a statement from the president.
The announcement comes nearly a week after President Abdelmadjid Tebboune told a meeting of Algeria’s High Security Council that “incessant hostile acts perpetrated by Morocco have meant the need for a revision in relations between the two countries and the intensification of security checks” at the western borders with Morocco, the official APS news agency reported.
Both countries are allies of western nations, and the move risked complicating diplomacy in the region. Both are important in the fight against terrorism in the nearby Sahel region.
Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Abdul Gheit called on both to avoid further escalation. He expressed hope the two countries can maintain a “minimal level of ties” to ensure stability for themselves and within the region.
The Algerian foreign minister cited an accumulation of grievances against Morocco leading to Tuesday’s decision.
He also denounced “massive and systematic acts of espionage” by Morocco, a reference to allegations that the kingdom’s security services used Israeli-made Pegasus spyware against its officials and citizenry, APS said. Morocco adamantly denies such claims.
Other criticism ranged from reported remarks by Morocco’s U.N. ambassador in mid-July to recent comments by the Israeli foreign minister on an historic visit to Morocco as part of their normalization of ties.
“Morocco has turned its territory into a platform allowing foreign powers to speak with hostility about Algeria,” APS quoted Lamamra as saying. For the official news agency, he was alluding to a remark by Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in Morocco this month in which he referred among other things to Algeria’s effort to stop Israel from having observer status in the African Union.
“Since 1948, no Israeli official made a hostile declaration to an Arab country from another Arab country,” APS quoted Lamamra as saying.
Morocco’s U.N. ambassador allegedly said that the people of Algeria’s Berber region of Kabyle should have the right to determine their status. He also cited Algeria’s claims that Morocco backs a separatist group in Kabyle, known as MAK, which Algiers has placed on a terrorism list. Algeria has suggested that MAK had a role in wildfires this month in the Kabyle region that killed scores of people, including more than two dozen soldiers.
The issue of Kabyle recalls Algeria’s support for a bid by the Polisario Front, a pro-independence movement based in southern Algeria, for self-determination in the disputed Western Sahara that was annexed by Morocco in 1975.
Morocco wants autonomy for the region under its supervision, while Algeria wants self-determination via a referendum.
“For all these reasons, based on the facts … I have announced, Algeria has decided to break relations,” Lamamra said.
IMAGE: Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra gestures as he reads a statement from the country’s president in Algiers, Tuesday, August 24, 2021.