Morocco is to recall its ambassador from Algeria after the country’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika called for human rights monitors to be sent to the disputed Western Sahara region.
Western Sahara is a sparsely populated tract of desert about the size of Britain, with large phosphate reserves and rich fishing grounds off its coast.
Morocco claims Western Sahara as its own and has annexed much of the territory, which the Algeria-backed Polisario Front is working to liberate.
Bouteflika has however called for rights monitoring in the region, in a message to a conference held in Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja, the Moroccan foreign ministry said.
“As a result of this, the kingdom of Morocco has decided to recall its ambassador in Algiers for consultations,’’ the ministry said in a statement.
Reacting, Algeria called Morocco’s decision unjustified and “an unfortunate escalation’’.
It however said it would not recall its diplomats in Morocco.
“The principled position of Algeria on the necessary completion of the decolonisation of Western Sahara has never changed.
“The speech delivered in Abuja was only a reminder of this position,’’ the Algerian foreign ministry said in a statement.
The Polisario Front accuses Morocco of routine human rights violations in Western Sahara.
It has consequently called for MINURSO, the UN mission in Western Sahara, to be given the authority to conduct independent human rights monitoring.
Morocco, backed by France, has however rejected the idea.