Rabat recalls its ambassador after Tunisian President Kais Saied receives Brahim Ghali of Polisario Front that is seeking independence for Western Sahara, a disputed territory Morocco regards as its own.

Morocco says Tunisia's decision to host Brahim Ghali
Morocco says Tunisia's decision to host Brahim Ghali "confirms its hostility in a blatant way". (AP Archive)

Morocco has recalled its ambassador to Tunis for consultations and cancelled its participation in a pan-African investment conference after Tunisia's president hosted the head of the Polisario movement.

In a statement on Friday, Morocco's Foreign Ministry said the move was "hostile and prejudicial to the fraternal relations that the two countries have always maintained" and that it would "immediately" recall its ambassador and withdraw from the TICAD summit.

"The welcome rolled out by the Tunisian head of state for the head of a separatist movement (Polisario chief Brahim Ghali) is a grave and unique act that deeply hurts the feelings of the Moroccan people," it said.

"Tunisia, against the advice of Japan and in violation of the process of preparation and established rules, decided unilaterally to invite" the Polisario, it said.

It also accused Tunisia of having recently "multiplied negative positions" against Morocco, and that its decision to host Ghali "confirms its hostility in a blatant way".

The Polisario wants an independent state in Western Sahara, a vast stretch of strategically valuable, mineral-rich desert Morocco sees as a sovereign part of its own territory. Rabat, which controls 80 percent of the disputed region, has said it can grant autonomy to the region within the Moroccan sovereignty. 

Polisario Front, which is politically backed by Algeria and controls 20 percent of Western Sahara, seeks complete independence. 

Polisario chief Ghali met with President Kais Saied after arriving in Tunisia on Friday to attend the Japanese-African investment conference TICAD.

Senegalese President Macky Sall, who is currently chair of the African Union, is scheduled to speak. The African Union recognises Western Sahara as a member but African states are split over both the Polisario and the territory's independence.

Tunisia has this year grown closer to Algeria, its most populous neighbour and one upon which it relies for energy, with Saied meeting Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune in July.

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Neighbours, allies dragged into conflict 

The development came as French President Emmanuel Macron was visiting Polisario backer Algeria for a high-profile, three-day visit aimed at fixing ties with the former French colony.

It is not the first time that Ghali's travels have sparked Moroccan anger.

In April 2021, he headed to Spain to be treated for Covid-19, sparking a year-long diplomatic row between Spain and the North African kingdom.

It only ended after Madrid dropped its decades-long stance of neutrality over Western Sahara –– a former Spanish colony –– and backed a Moroccan plan for limited self-rule there.

Gaining recognition for its sovereignty over Western Sahara has long been Morocco's most treasured foreign policy goal. In 2020 the United States led by Donald Trump recognised its sovereignty in return for Morocco agreeing to closer ties with Israel.

Since then, Morocco has taken a tougher stance over Western Sahara, withdrawing its ambassadors to Spain and Germany until they moved closer to its stance on the territory.

Algeria has withdrawn its own ambassador to Spain, a major customer for Algerian gas, after Madrid's sudden shift on Western Sahara.

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Source: AFP