- Mauritanian officials have emphasised they are not shifting sides towards Morocco in the conflict over Western Sahara, contrasting media reports originating in Morocco. Mauritania's relatively new government confirms it is to stay neutral in the conflict and maintain its recognition of the exiled Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
The state-controlled Mauritanian News Agency 'AIM' this week reported that the country's government will remain neutral in the conflict in neighbouring Western Sahara. Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, President of the Nouakchott parliament, confirmed this as being the government view during a recent visit to Morocco.
Speculations about a possible shift in Mauritania's siding in the Western Sahara conflict were first heard after three Mauritanian political parties announced they would recognise Morocco's claim over the territory it has occupied since 1976. The announcement, distributed widely by Morocco's government-controlled agency 'MAP', however overlooked that the three Mauritanian parties have a marginal following.
Further speculations were fuelled by the announced visit of parliament speaker Boulkheir and a large delegation of Mauritanian MPs. Independent media in Mauritania expressed doubts about the future of the country's neutral line in the conflict, emphasising on the great economic interests in cooperating closer with Morocco.
Returning from his visit to Morocco, Mr Boulkheir expressed surprise over the many speculations in Mauritanian media. "I want to say that all meetings in Morocco presented me with an opportunity to unequivocally reiterate the two points which, since time immemorial, have characterised our country's position regarding this issue," said the speaker. These two points include neutrality in the conflict between Morocco and the exiled Sahrawi government; and the diplomatic recognition of the latter government.
Relations with Western Sahara are a delicate matter in Mauritania, which already have caused one military coup in the country. Mauritania occupied the southern part of Western Sahara in 1976, but Sahrawi independence fighters Polisario managed to defeat Mauritanian troops in 1979. The defeat led to a military coup in Mauritania, with the new government recognising the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and declaring neutrality in the further Sahrawi-Moroccan conflict.
Mauritania since then has had low-scale relations with all parties to the conflict; the Sahrawi government, Morocco and Algeria, which is Polisario's main ally. This low-scaled relation situation is causing frustration as Mauritania would have benefited strongly from a closer economic cooperation with the much bigger economies of Morocco and Algeria.
The current government of President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi thus has tried to find a way out of the impasse, by trying to develop closer bilateral ties with both Algeria and Morocco. While parliament speaker Boulkheir led a high-profiled delegation of MPs to Morocco, Mauritanian Prime Minister Yahya Ould Ahmed Elwaghf this week led a larger delegation to Algeria, where he met President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, several ministers and the business community.
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