Algeria cuts diplomatic ties with 'hostile' Morocco
Algeria's Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra holds a press conference in the capital Algiers.–AFP
Algeria's Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra said Tuesday that his country has severed diplomatic relations with Morocco due to "hostile actions", following months of resurgent tensions between the North African rivals.
The countries have long accused one another of backing opposition movements as proxies, with Algeria's support for separatists in the disputed region of Western Sahara a particular bone of contention for Morocco.
"Algeria has decided to cut diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Morocco from today," Lamamra announced during a press conference.
In a statement later Tuesday, Morocco's foreign ministry said Algiers' move was "completely unjustified" but "expected given the logic of escalation seen in recent weeks".
Rabat added that the decision to cut ties was based on "false, even absurd pretexts".
The rupture followed a review of bilateral relations announced by Algeria last week as it alleged its neighbour was complicit in deadly forest fires that ravaged the country's north.
Lamamra accused Morocco's leaders of "responsibility for repeated crises" and behaviour that has "led to conflict instead of integration" in North Africa.
Late last month, Morocco's King Mohamed VI deplored the tensions between the two countries, and invited Algeria's President Abdelmadjid Tebboune "to make wisdom prevail" and "to work in unison for the development of relations" between the two countries.
- 'Provocation' -
But Algeria's forest fires, which broke out on August 9 amid a blistering heatwave, burned tens of thousands of hectares of forest and killed at least 90 people, including more than 30 soldiers, further stoking tensions.
While critics say Algerian authorities failed to prepare for the blazes, Tebboune declared most of the fires were of "criminal" origin.
Algerian authorities have blamed the independence movement of the mainly Berber region of Kabylie extending along the Mediterranean coast east of the capital.
Algiers has accused Rabat of backing the separatists.
"The Moroccan provocation reached its climax when a Moroccan delegate to the United Nations demanded the independence of the people of the Kabylie region," Lamamra said Tuesday.
Algerian authorities have also accused the Movement for Self-determination of Kabylie (MAK) of involvement in lynching a man falsely accused of arson during the recent forest fires, an incident that sparked outrage.
- 'Bad decision' -
It also said there would be an "intensification of security controls on the western borders" with Morocco.
Mohamed, a Moroccan bus driver, called Algeria's latest move "a bad decision".
"It's like cutting ties with your next-door neighbour," he told AFP.
The two North African countries along with Tunisia were united, he added, saying "there are no differences, this happens between governments".
But Lamamra also said consular assistance to citizens of both countries would not be affected.
Relations between Algiers and Rabat have been fraught in past decades, especially over the flashpoint issue of the disputed Western Sahara.
A normalisation deal between Morocco and Israel in December triggered fresh tensions between Rabat and Algiers because the US recognised Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara as part of the accord.
Lamamra on Tuesday accused the Israeli foreign minister of "senseless accusations and veiled threats" after Yair Lapid expressed "worries about the role played by Algeria in the region".
On his first visit to Morocco since the countries normalised ties, Lapid said his concerns were based on fears Algeria was "getting close to Iran", as well as "the campaign it waged against the admission of Israel as an observer member of the African Union".