Algiers accuses Madrid of "contributing directly to the degradation of the situation" in disputed Western Sahara, over which Spain recently ended its neutrality and now backs Morocco's claim.

Tensions have soared in a complex three-way dispute after Spain gave its backing to Morocco's position over the disputed Western Sahara territory.
Tensions have soared in a complex three-way dispute after Spain gave its backing to Morocco's position over the disputed Western Sahara territory. (Reuters Archive)

Algeria has announced the North African nation is "immediately" suspending a two-decades-old friendship treaty with Spain – a decision Madrid said it regretted – and banning all imports from Spain. 

The statement from Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune's office cited on Wednesday what it said was the "unjustifiable turnaround" in March on Spain’s position, amounting to a "fait accompli using fallacious arguments." It said that Spain has since campaigned "to justify" its position.

The statement said Spain was abusing its role as an "administrating power" in Western Sahara until the United Nations sorts out the decades-old situation over the status of the vast, mineral-rich territory. 

It is, therefore, "contributing directly to the degradation of the situation in Western Sahara and the region," the Algerian president's office said.

"In consequence, Algeria has decided to proceed immediately with the suspension" of the treaty, which has served as the framework in the two countries' ties, the statement said. The treaty dates to 2002.

Hours later, Algeria's bank association said the country has banned all imports from Spain starting Thursday. 

Madrid reaffirms commitment to treaty

It was the latest blow to increasingly wobbly relations between Algiers and Madrid — which depends on Algeria for its natural gas supply.

Tensions have soared in a complex three-way dispute after Spain apparently gave its backing to Morocco's position over the disputed Western Sahara territory. Algeria backs the Polisario independence movement in the region, which rejects Morocco's annexation of Western Sahara. The Polisario are encamped in southern Algeria.

Spain's government said it regretted Algeria's decision and reaffirmed its commitment to the friendship treaty.

"The Spanish government regards Algeria as a friendly neighbour country and restates its complete readiness to keep and develop the special cooperation relationship between our two countries, to the benefit of the people of both," a Spanish Foreign Ministry statement said.

READ MORE: Algeria seeks 'clarifications' from Spain over Western Sahara policy U-turn

Western Sahara dispute

Spain was the former colonial power in Western Sahara until it was annexed by Morocco in 1975. Since then, Algeria and neighbouring Morocco have had tense ties over the fate of Western Sahara, at one point fighting a desert war. Morocco wants some autonomy for the region with Moroccan oversight over what it calls its "southern provinces."

The two African countries broke diplomatic relations in August in the standoff.

The Western Sahara issue has combined with turbulence over energy supplies from gas-rich Algeria. The Algerian press regularly refers to Spain's backing for Morocco as a form of "treason."

In 2021, Algeria's Sonatrach furnished Spain with more than 40 percent of its imported natural gas, most brought in via the underwater Medgaz pipeline. 

Another supply route to Spain was via the Maghreb Europe pipeline that passes through Morocco but was shut off after the August break in diplomatic ties between Algeria and Morocco.

READ MORE: Algeria threatens to cut gas contract with Spain

Source: AP