A Saharan stand-off may become a US problem. A nasty spat between Algeria and Morocco over the disputed region of Western Sahara has boiled over anew, as Morocco recalled its ambassador, angry protesters tore down an Algerian flag, and a Moroccan magazine called for land grabs.

When Morocco’s King Mohammed VI meets with President Barack Obama during his visit to the US next week, the monarch will be looking for greater US support as Morocco feuds with regional rival Algeria. The neighbors are jockeying for position in a dispute that leaves little space for the cooperation against al-Qaeda in North Africa that Washington and its allies want.

Morocco has long made gaining international recognition for its 1975 annexation of the former Spanish territory on Africa’s Atlantic coast a top diplomatic priority. With Algeria backing the movement seeking independence, the two countries have been at loggerheads for decades.

Last month, Morocco temporarily recalled its ambassador — a major escalation that one former Algerian diplomat called an attempt to gain US backing for its claim to Western Sahara.

“It was surprising and disproportionate,” Abdelaziz Rahabi told The Associated Press, arguing the move was designed to dominate the scheduled visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry this week that has since been postponed.

The US priority in the region, however, has increasingly focused on fighting terrorism, with al-Qaeda’s North Africa branch morphing into a Sahara-spanning organization with an elusive presence from the borders of Morocco to Libya. With the two most powerful militaries in the region at each other’s throats, building any kind of regional cooperation — especially to support weaker states like Niger, Mauritania and Chad — has been impossible.

Morocco has proposed wide-ranging autonomy for Western Sahara, but the Polisario Front, the pro-independence nationalist movement, insists that local people have the right to a referendum on the territory’s future as set out in a 1991 UN-brokered cease fire agreement that ended 15 years of fighting.

Algeria has backed the Polisario’s claims and provides the group with a haven. It says it is in support of the principle of self-determination; Morocco says it is just a cynical ploy for regional domination. see more

source: todayszaman