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Friday, September 30, 2022

Morocco summons Tunisian ambassador over Western Sahara

20220925 104601
20220925 104601

The dispute opens a new front in a series of disputes over Western Sahara that have already stretched into Spain and Germany.

Morocco summoned its ambassador in Tunisia for consultations and canceled his participation in the African Investment Conference, after the Tunisian president hosted the leader of the Polisario movement, which is demanding independence for Western Sahara.

Morocco, which considers Western Sahara its territory, said on Friday that Tunisia’s decision to invite Ibrahim Ghali to an African development summit this weekend was “hostile and harmful to the brotherly relations that countries have always maintained” and to welcome Ghali. “A dangerous and unprecedented act that deeply hurts the feelings of the Moroccan people.”

The statement added: “Tunisia, contrary to the advice of Japan and contrary to the preparation process and the established rules, decided unilaterally to invite” the Polisario.

The dispute opens a new front in a series of disputes over Western Sahara that have already swept Spain and Germany and escalated the regional rivalry between Morocco and Algeria, the main supporter of the Polisario Front.

This year Tunisia has moved closer to Algeria, which depends on it for energy, as President Kais Saied met Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune in July.

This weekend Tunisia will host the Tokyo International Conference on African Development, which will bring together heads of state from several African countries.

Tunisia announced, in response to Morocco’s decision, that it would also recall its ambassador in Rabat for consultations.

The Tunisian Foreign Ministry said in a statement in the early hours of Saturday morning that the country maintains its “total neutrality on the issue of Western Sahara, in compliance with international legitimacy.”

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People protest in Spain against changing its position on Western Sahara
Spain and Germany were also drawn into the dispute over Western Sahara, which Morocco claims to own [File: Borja Suarez/Reuters]

She said that the African Union distributed a memorandum inviting all members of the assembly, including the leader of the Polisario Front, to participate in the activities of the Tokyo International Conference for the African Development Summit in Tunisia.

The Chairman of the African Commission also extended a direct individual invitation to Ibrahim Ghali to attend the summit.

Senegalese President Macky Sall, who currently chairs the African Union, is scheduled to deliver a speech. The African Union recognizes Western Sahara as a member, but African countries are divided over the Polisario and the independence of the territory.

This is not the first time that Ghali’s travels have sparked Moroccan outrage.

In April 2021, he went to Spain for treatment after contracting COVID-19, sparking a year-long diplomatic row between Spain and the North African kingdom.

That ended only after Madrid abandoned its decades-long neutral stance on Western Sahara – a former Spanish colony – and backed a Moroccan plan for limited autonomy there.

Gaining recognition of its sovereignty over Western Sahara has always been one of Morocco’s most important foreign policy goals. In 2020, the United States recognized its sovereignty in exchange for Morocco’s agreement to closer ties with Israel.

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