Morocco Adds Western Sahara Waters to Its Maritime Borders

January 26: Morocco’s parliament passed measures that extend the country’s legal authority to include the maritime space of Western Sahara.

Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Nasser Bourita told parliament the legislative initiative “updates the national legal system for maritime domains,” and that “this update would provide an accurate definition of maritime areas under the sovereignty of the kingdom of Morocco.”

The House of Representatives, the first chamber of the Moroccan parliament, voted unanimously January 22 in favour of the demarcation legislation and a second measure that provides for the creation of an economic zone within 200 nautical miles off the coast of Morocco.

The delimitation of the maritime territory sparked tensions between Morocco and Algeria and between Morocco and Spain, particularly concerning oil exploration in the area.

Bourita said the adoption of the two measures is “a sovereign right” but stressed “Morocco’s openness and readiness to dialogue and negotiate with its neighbours, especially Spain, to address any overlap in the maritime areas of the two countries.”

The legislation defines the maritime domain under Moroccan sovereignty off the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, including disputed waters of the Western Sahara coasts up to the borders with Mauritania.

Bourita said one reason that dictated the move was the need to update legislation to match “the complete sovereignty of the kingdom of Morocco within its defined land and sea borders,” given that the law that defined the maritime sphere of Morocco was adopted in 1973, before the annexation of Western Sahara.

Morocco controls 80% of the Moroccan Sahara and has proposed to grant the territory administrative autonomy under its sovereignty but the separatist Polisario Front is demanding independence. For decades, the United Nations has been sponsoring efforts to find a political solution to the  conflict.

The Polisario Front downplayed the Moroccan move, stressing that the two laws “would have no legal effect.”

Before their adoption, both bills sparked heated discussions in Spain because of the Canary Islands, in the Atlantic Ocean opposite the coast of Morocco’s southern regions.

Bourita explained that “Morocco has no intention of imposing the unilateral de facto situation.”

Source: The Arab Weekly

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