Algeria, Morocco end ‘cold war’, agree to open borders

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CAIRO — Algeria and Morocco have agreed to re-open their borders,
closed since 1994.

Diplomats said the governments in Algiers and Rabat have agreed in
principle to re-open their mutual border as part of an effort to achieve
reconciliation. They said the border re-opening reflected a recognition by
Algeria that it required security cooperation with Morocco to quell the
growing threat from Al Qaida.

According to Algerian newspapers, preparations for re-opening the border were being made before Saad Eddin Othamni, the Moroccan minister of foreign affairs, visited Algeria in late January. /AFP/Farouk Batiche

“The Arab Spring has changed a lot of perceptions in the region and Algeria now understands that it can’t keep up its cold war with Morocco,” a diplomat said.

Algeria has acknowledged the likelihood of open borders with Morocco. The Algerian daily Al Akhbar said the border could be opened as early as the next few weeks.

In January, Algeria and Morocco held their highest-level open
consultation in years. Moroccan Foreign Minister Saad Eddin Othamni visited Algiers and met the entire leadership, including President Abdul Aziz Bouteflika.

“During the visit, everything was discussed,” the diplomat said. “The Algerians were not playing games.”

Algeria and Morocco have long been rivals in North Africa. The two have disputed control over Western Sahara, with Algeria backing the Polisario militia, said to be cooperating with Al Qaida.

Over the last three years, Algiers and Rabat began to modernize their
militaries. Algeria signed an $8.5 billion agreement with Russia for
fighter-jets, main battle tanks and submarines while Morocco ordered
fighter-jets from the United States and warships from Europe.

Morocco’s new Islamist-led government has made reconciliation with
Algeria a priority. They said the Islamist opposition in Algeria has also
pledged to significantly improve bilateral relations, trade and security
cooperation should it win elections in May 2012.

But the diplomats said Algerian-Moroccan reconciliation preceded the
Islamist campaigns. They said Algiers and Rabat formed technical panels to
discuss ways to restore trade and security cooperation.

“The understanding in both countries is that reconciliation, even if it
doesn’t resolve basic issues, would help in counter-terror efforts and the
reduction of the military budgets,” the diplomat said.

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