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Moroccan FM in fence-mending Algeria trip

2012-01-23 10:28

Algiers - Morocco's new foreign minister Saad Eddine Othmani begins a fence-mending visit to Algeria on Monday to resolve disputes such as the neighbours' longstanding differences over Western Sahara.

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 following legislative elections in November.

The two-day 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.

Othmani will meet with Algeria's veteran President Abdelaziz Bouteflika as well as Medelci.

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.