|Relations between the two countries have been tense over Western Sahara’s independence [EPA]
Morocco’s King Mohammed has renewed calls to normalise ties and reopen borders with wealthier neighbour Algeria, saying that Rabat wants to implement plans for an integrated North African economic bloc.
In a television address on Saturday to mark the 12th anniversary of his reign, 47-year old King Mohammed said that Morocco “remains committed to building the Maghreb Union as a strategic choice”.
“We are determined to work … to overcome the obstacles which unfortunately hinder the implementation of this project,” King Mohammed said.
Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia formed the Arab Maghreb Union in 1989 to emulate the European Union model of economic and political integration.
The project has never been implemented due mainly to differences between Algeria and Morocco over the disputed Western Sahara territory.
Morocco looks forward to starting “a new dynamic for the settlement of all pending issues as a prelude to a full normalisation of bilateral relations between our two brotherly countries, including the reopening of land borders,” he said.
The land border between the two countries has been shut since 1994, when Algeria reacted to Morocco imposing visa requirements on its citizens.
Following a shooting attack in Marrakesh, Morocco suspected the gunmen who killed two Spaniards had ties to Algeria and required visas for Algerian citizens.
Prickly relations have kept the frontier shut ever since, hampering trade flows across North Africa.
Economists estimate the closed land border costs Morocco about 2 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product, mainly in potential tourist and trade flows.
A series of high-level visits by Moroccan and Algerian officials in the past few months prompted local media, and some Western diplomats, to say the border, which runs 1,559km from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sahara desert, could be reopened soon.
Morocco has recently been invited to join the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but the King has remained tight-lipped in his reaction and did not mention the GCC invitation in his speech.