Algeria will review its relations with Morocco after accusing it of complicity in deadly forest fires, a presidency statement said Wednesday, in the latest tensions between the North African neighbours.
At least 90 people, including 33 soldiers, were killed in dozens of forest fires that broke out amid a blistering heatwave on August 9 across swathes of northern Algeria.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has said most of the fires were “criminal” in origin.
The decision to review relations with Rabat was made during an extraordinary meeting of the country’s security council, chaired by Tebboune and dedicated to evaluating the situation after the fires.
“The incessant hostile acts carried out by Morocco against Algeria have necessitated the review of relations between the two countries,” the presidency statement said.
It said there would also be an “intensification of security controls on the western borders” with Morocco.
The border between Algeria and Morocco has been closed since 1994.
The statement did not clarify what the review might mean.
Algeria’s DGSN security agency said investigations had discovered “a criminal network, classed as a terrorist organisation” as being behind the fires, according to the “admission of arrested members”.
Algerian authorities point the finger for the fires at the independence movement of the mainly Berber region of Kabylie, which extends along the Mediterranean coast east of the capital Algiers.
– Fraught ties –
The authorities also accuse the Movement for Self-determination of Kabylie (MAK) of involvement in the lynching of a man falsely accused of arson, an incident that sparked outrage. The mob also set the victim on fire.
Authorities have arrested 61 people over the incident.
Some of the suspects have confessed to being members of the MAK, according to confessions broadcast on Algerian television.
Algiers has also accused the Islamist-inspired Rachad movement of involvement.
“The high security council has decided… to intensify the efforts of the security services to arrest the rest of the individuals involved in the two crimes, as well as all members of the two terrorist movements that threaten public security and national unity,” according to the presidency statement.
It said it aimed for their “total eradication, particularly the MAK, which receives the support and aid of foreign parties… Morocco and the Zionist entity”, the statement added, referring to Israel.
The Paris-based MAK said it rejected the accusations.
Algiers classified both the MAK and Rachad as “terrorist organisations” in May.
Last month, Algeria recalled its ambassador in Morocco for consultations.
The move came after Morocco’s envoy to the United Nations, Omar Hilale, expressed support for self-determination for Algeria’s Kabylie region.
At the time, Algeria’s foreign ministry said Morocco thus “publicly and explicitly supports an alleged right to self-determination of the Kabylie people”.
Relations between Algiers and Rabat have been fraught in past decades, especially over the flashpoint issue of the disputed Western Sahara.
Morocco considers the former Spanish colony an integral part of its kingdom, but Algeria has backed the Polisario movement which seeks independence there.
Algeria is among several Mediterranean countries that have seen forest fires in recent weeks, including Morocco.
The blazes in Algeria burned tens of thousands of hectares of forest, with emergency services on Wednesday declaring all the fires had been extinguished.
Critics say the authorities failed to prepare for the blazes.