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Moroccan FM in fence-mending trip to Algeria

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-01-24

Morocco's new foreign minister Saad Eddine Othmani (pictured) began a diplomatic tour of Algeria on Monday to "breathe new life" into bilateral ties. It is the first visit by a Moroccan foreign minister to Algiers since 2003.

AFP - Morocco's new Foreign Minister Saad Eddine Othmani Monday began a fence-mending visit to Algeria to resolve disputes such as the neighbours' lingering row over Western Sahara.

Othmani spoke of a "common will...to breathe new life" into bilateral ties at the start of the two-day visit.

Morocco's 1975 annexation of the territory, a former Spanish colony, sparked a war between its forces and Algerian-backed Polisario guerrillas.

It is the first visit by a Moroccan foreign minister to Algiers since 2003 and Othmani's first foreign trip since he took office after legislative elections in November.

The visit at the invitation of Othmani's Algerian counterpart Mourad Medelci is also aimed at revitalising the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) comprising Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Mauritania and Libya after sweeping changes in the region last year.

"We are conscious now that there have been transformations in some UMA countries and these changes offer an opportunity to iron out differences and work towards North African integration," he said.

At a joint press conference later Monday with Medelci, Othmani said they had reached accord where the foreign ministers of their two countries would hold bi-annual meetings to evaluate bi-lateral relations.

Othmani will meet with Algeria's veteran President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Tuesday.

The border between the two countries was closed in 1994 following an Islamist militant attack in Marrakesh that Morocco blamed on the Algerian secret services.

Tensions in the border region occasionally flare, and a July clash between Moroccan border guards and armed men coming from Algeria left one soldier dead.

But relations between Morocco and Algeria have been strained for decades by the long-running dispute over the Western Sahara.

The two sides agreed to a ceasefire in 1991, but UN-sponsored talks on Western Sahara's future have since made no headway.

"Whatever the differences, it's abnormal not to have a normal relationship with a neighbouring country," Othmani's predecessor Taeib Fassi Fihri said in November following talks with Medelci on the sidelines of an Arab League meeting in Rabat.

Date created : 2012-01-24

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