Reuters: Moroccan king ignores Algeria accusation in speech

RABAT, Nov 6 (Reuters) – Morocco’s King Mohammed gave a speech about Western Sahara on Saturday but made no mention of an Algerian accusation that Morocco targeted Algerian civilians in an incident last week that the United Nations said took place in the disputed territory.

Algeria’s accusation has raised fears of further escalation between the North African rivals after Algeria cut off diplomatic relations, stopped supplying gas to Morocco and blocked Algerian airspace to Moroccan flights.

Ties between the countries have been fractious for years, but have deteriorated since last year after the Algeria-backed Polisario Front said it was resuming its armed struggle for the independence of Western Sahara, a territory Morocco sees as its own.

King Mohammed’s silence on the dispute with Algeria in his annual speech on Western Sahara is in line with Morocco’s practice since soon after Algeria broke off ties in August in ignoring all statements coming from Algiers.

However, Algeria’s accusation on Wednesday that Morocco had killed three civilians driving in the Sahara on Monday has sharply raised the stakes.

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune vowed in a statement that the death of the three men “would not go unpunished”.

Morocco has not formally responded to the accusation.

The U.N. peacekeeping force in Western Sahara, MINURSO, visited the site of the incident in territory outside Moroccan control and found two badly damaged Algerian-plated trucks, a U.N. spokesperson said on Friday. The spokesperson said MINURSO was looking into the incident.

Last year the United States recognised Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara as part of a deal that also included Rabat bolstering ties with Israel.

Morocco has been more assertive since then in pushing European countries to follow suit. However, they have not done so and in September a European Union court said some European trade deals with Morocco were invalid because they included products originating in Western Sahara territory.

King Mohammed said on Saturday that Morocco would not agree “any economic or commercial step that excludes the Moroccan Sahara”.

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