The council of foreign ministers in the five-nation Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) began talks here Monday aimed at reviving the body, which has been paralyzed by discord between Morocco and Algeria.
Morocco sent only its junior foreign minister, Taieb Fassi Fihri, to the talks in the Algerian capital. Officials said the goal of the two-day meeting was to pave the way for a summit of heads of state before the end of the year.
The activities of the UMA —- which groups Libya, Mauritania and Tunisia as well as Algeria and Morocco — have been effectively frozen since December 1995 by Rabat because of disputes with Algiers.
Moroccan authorities refuse to uncouple their role in the UMA from their stance over the occupied Western Sahara, which the Rabat government has contested since 1975 with guerrillas of the Polisario Front.
Algeria, which backs the Polisario Front and has for decades been home to refugees from the territory, contends that the dispute should be a matter for the United Nations, which has sought in vain to organize a referendum on self-determination.
An Algerian daily, Al-Chourouk, reported Monday that in two days of talks the ministers were expected to adopt a system which would allow the UMA to function whether or not a member state freezes its own participation.
The UMA was founded in February 1989 to coordinate the five countries' political and economic strategies.
Monday's session, chaired by Algerian Foreign Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem, was preceded by talks among experts from the five member countries, officials said.
An expert committee made recommendations to the meeting on issues such as the structures of the UMA itself, higher education, banking, the legal framework and relations with other regional groups.
UN efforts to organize a self-determination referendum in the Western Sahara have stalled since 1992 — though the Polisario Front and the Moroccan army have maintained an at times fragile ceasefire — because of rows over who should be eligible to vote. — (AFP, Algiers)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)