Sun Feb 5, 2017 06:33PM
Moroccan Deputy Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita
Moroccan Deputy Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita

Moroccan officials have rejected claims that their country will have to recognize the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) now that the kingdom is permitted to rejoin the African Union (AU).

Moroccan Deputy Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said in an interview published on Sunday that Morocco’s membership in the AU would not mean a recognition of the SADR borders declared by the the Polisario Front in the Western Sahara region at the height of a war for the territory.

“Not only does Morocco not recognize - and will never recognize - this so-called entity ... It will (also) redouble its efforts so the small minority of countries, particularly African, which recognize it, change their positions,” said Bourita.

The Moroccan diplomat said Rabat will not change its stance on the territory, refuting statements by Polisario and its allies that Morocco's return to the African bloc implies a recognition of the SADR's borders.

“This is nonsense from the point of view of international law and state practice,” Bourita said, adding that joining “an international forum in the presence of an unrecognized entity cannot imply the state's recognition of that entity.”

The AU decided in a meeting in Ethiopia last Monday to approve Morocco's re-entry into the bloc. The kingdom left the AU in 1984 after the continental body admitted SADR.

Polisario backers, namely Algeria and South Africa, had resisted Morocco’s return.

A diplomatic source in Rabat said Morocco’s re-entry into AU was a major setback for those countries, saying they “spent months doing everything they can to prevent our return, until the last minute.”

The source said Polisario backers are now trying to present their “failure as a success” by pretending that Morocco has accepted to recognize SADR.

“Morocco will continue to mobilize to delegitimize the SADR,” said the senior diplomat, adding, “The return of Morocco is a direct challenge to the presence of the Polisario within the AU.”

Polisario may resort to war

The Polisario head and SADR president, Brahim Ghali, said Sunday that the movement was ready to hold talks with Morocco, but warned that “all options are open” in the independence struggle from the kingdom, meaning that the movement could return to armed struggle against Rabat.

“We always look for the peaceful way" to resolve the conflict, Ghali said, adding, "But all options remain open.”

Ghali called on Morocco to meet its commitments, saying the kingdom should respect the international borders of the Sahrawi Republic now that it is a member of the AU

The disputed Sahara territory was for long a Spanish colony until it went under Moroccan control in 1975. Years of war ended with a ceasefire in 1991 but the two sides of the conflict have rejected efforts to reach a permanent solution. Some 165,000 people, known as Sahrawis, currently live in a refugee camp in Tindouf, southwestern Algeria. The population mostly lives on aid from UN agencies and international NGOs.