Morocco adds W. Sahara waters to its maritime territory

A fishing vessel in Western Sahara's waters. Morocco on January 22, 2020, integrated waters off the coast of Western Sahara into its maritime territory. PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • Morocco on Wednesday integrated waters off the coast of Western Sahara into its maritime territory.
  • Morocco has controlled 80 percent of the territory since the 1970s and views it as an integral part of the kingdom.
  • The move is disputed by the Polisario Front, who want a referendum for the people of Western Sahara to choose between independence and integration with Morocco.

Rabat,

Morocco on Wednesday integrated waters off the coast of Western Sahara into its maritime territory, adopting two laws that extend its legal jurisdiction over the disputed former Spanish colony.

"These laws aim to update the national legal arsenal" in line with "the full sovereignty of the kingdom over its land and maritime borders," Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said before parliament in Rabat passed the laws.

The laws, intended to establish Morocco's jurisdiction over territorial waters stretching from Tangiers on the northern coast as far as Lagouira, on the border with Mauritania, were unanimously backed by lawmakers and greeted with applause.

The vast desert territory of Western Sahara lies north of Mauritania and is bordered to the west by around 1,000 kilometres of Atlantic coastline.

Morocco has controlled 80 percent of the territory since the 1970s and views it as an integral part of the kingdom.

DISPUTED WATERS

That is disputed by the Polisario Front, an Algerian-backed independence movement.

The Polisario fought a war for independence from 1975 to 1991 and wants a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara choose between independence and integration with Morocco.

Rabat has instead offered autonomy, but insists it will retain sovereignty.

Supporters of the Polisario claim that 92 per cent of Moroccan fishing is done in "pillaged" Western Saharan waters.

TENSIONS

In the works for years, the delimitation of the maritime territory, whose status is still unresolved, has in the past sparked tensions between Morocco and Spain, particularly after oil exploration in the area.

The issue will be addressed on Friday during the first visit to Rabat by new Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez, according to Bourita.

"We do not want to impose a fait accompli, but we are ready to engage in dialogue with Spain in the framework of our essential rights and sovereignty," he told parliament.

In mid December, the Spanish government reminded Morocco that the delimitation of maritime borders with neighbouring countries was governed by "mutual agreement".

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