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Algerian army forces Moroccans to leave their border farms

Members of the Sahrawi People's Liberation Army parade during a ceremony to mark 40 years after the Front proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in the disputed territory of Western Sahara on February 27, 2016 [FAROUK BATICHE/AFP via Getty Images]
Members of the Sahrawi People's Liberation Army parade during a ceremony to mark 40 years after the Front proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in the disputed territory of Western Sahara on February 27, 2016 [FAROUK BATICHE/AFP via Getty Images]

The authorities in Algeria have scheduled the evacuation of dozens of Moroccan farmers in the border area near the province of Figuig for Thursday.

The farms owned by Moroccan nationals are in an area called Laarja, which is part of the Figuig region bordering south-east Morocco and south-west Algeria.

Algerian forces entered the area in February and conducted surveys. A high-level political and military committee returned to the Laarja area a few days ago and ordered the Moroccan farmers to leave by Thursday. They were threatened with arrest if they refuse to comply with the order.

The Moroccans expressed their surprise at this sudden move. The government in Rabat has not provided any explanation to its citizens, nor has it made any comment about the situation.

READ: Legislation to strip Algerians of citizenship will stifle dissenting voices

At a farmers' protest in Figuig on Saturday, an explanation was demanded. "The Algerian authorities have told us that the Laarja region is Algerian territory and that the Moroccan authorities will compensate us for the property that we are about to lose," said a spokesman for the farmers.

According to the Socialist Party in the Figuig region, "The Moroccan state has not been clear with the inhabitants of Figuig and the population as a whole regarding the demarcation of the border between Morocco and Algeria. This remains subject to political fluctuations between the two countries." The 1972 agreement between Rabat and Algiers is not at all clear regarding the border, explained the party. "Morocco has deceived and tricked the inhabitants and farmers of the Figuig oasis into investing for years in land that could be taken away from them at any time, as is happening now."

The party urged the Moroccan authorities to make known the details of this case and its political, economic and social implications for the region.

It also called for a straightforward and objective debate with the inhabitants of Figuig who are directly affected by this arbitrary procedure. "Appropriate and reassuring solutions are needed for the people involved in accordance with international conventions regarding the property of citizens located on both sides of the border. The issue should be resolved once and for all with neighbouring Algeria in a way that preserves the land for future generations so that the same tragedy does not occur again."

READ: Could the hostility between Morocco and Algeria descend into a full-blown conflict?

Moroccan and Algerian towns overlap at a number of border locations, despite the 1972 border agreement.

Citizens of Morocco complain that Algeria, supported by France, has resumed its annexation of Moroccan land. As a result, some political parties have called for the closure of the Eastern Sahara file, a territory supposedly annexed by Algeria.

According to Moroccan analyst Manar Eslimi yesterday, "The Algerian army's decision to open the border issue and annex Laarja is an attempt to divert the attention of the popular movement after being besieged by activists' demands to hand over power to civilians. The developments are not reassuring, and the possibility of a war between Morocco and Algeria cannot be excluded."

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