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Western Sahara: Morocco recalls Tunisia ambassador over Polisario Front invite

Move comes after President Kais Saied welcomed leader of independence movement to Tunis ahead of African summit
Tunisia's President Kais Saied (R) with the head of the Polisario Front movement, Brahim Ghali, on the latter's arrival in Tunis on 26 August 2022 (Reuters)

Morocco has recalled its ambassador to Tunisia over his country's decision to host the head of the Polisario Front, the independence movement for Western Sahara, in Tunis. 

The disputed former Spanish colony is classified as a "non-self-governing territory" by the United Nations, and has been the source of a decades-long conflict between Sahrawi independence campaigners and Rabat, which claims it as its own.

Tunisian President Kais Saied received Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali on Friday ahead of a Japanese development summit for Africa hosted in the Tunisian capital over the weekend.

Morocco described the invite as "a grave and unprecedented act that deeply hurts the feelings of the Moroccan people". 

It recalled its ambassador to Tunisia on Friday as a result, and Tunis responded by recalling its envoy to Rabat for consultations. 

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On Saturday, Tunisia's foreign affairs ministry said it maintained complete "neutrality over Western Sahara issue in compliance with international legitimacy". 

It said the African Union had called on all members of the intergovernmental body to participate in the Tokyo International Conference on African Development Summit in Tunisia, which included the head of the Polisario Front. 

The president of the African Commission directly extended an invite to Ghali, Tunis said. 

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Morocco's foreign ministry announced it would pull out of the summit, accusing Tunisia of "multiplied negative positions" against Morocco and labelling the decision to host Ghali as "confirm[ing] its hostility in a blatant way". 

Tunisia maintains close economic ties with neighbour Algeria, the main international backer of the Polisario Front, with a border crossing between the two countries reopening last week following two years of closure. 

In December 2020, the United States recognised Western Sahara as part of Morocco in return for Rabat normalising relations with Israel. 

Earlier this year, Spain announced its support for Morocco's autonomy plan for the disputed territory in a diplomatic U-turn, prompting Algeria to recall its Madrid envoy and upending relations between the two countries. 

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