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Morocco freezes ties with German Embassy amid Sahara tension

March 2, 2021 GMT

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Morocco’s Foreign Ministry has suspended ties with the German Embassy because of “deep misunderstandings,” notably related to the disputed Western Sahara.

The move this week comes amid diplomatic tension around Western Sahara since the U.S. under then President Donald Trump took the unusual move in December of recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over the territory.

A letter leaked online from Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita to the rest of the Moroccan government orders officials to suspend “all contact, interaction and cooperation” with the German Embassy and embassy-related activities.

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A senior Moroccan government official confirmed to The Associated Press on Tuesday that the letter was authentic, but said it wasn’t meant to be made public.

The official, who wasn’t authorized to be publicly named, said the decision has to do with Germany’s recent stance on the Sahara issue, especially in the aftermath of the U.S. decision. The official also noted the appearance of a flag of the pro-independence Polisario Front outside the state assembly in the northern German city of Bremen.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry said it was aware of media reports about the letter, but had no further comment.

Later on Tuesday, the government said the it saw no reason for a deterioration of the good diplomatic relations with Morocco.

The Moroccan ambassador was asked by the Foreign Ministry to explain the incident in an “urgent conversation.”

The Algeria-backed Polisario Front fought for independence for Western Sahara after Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975. U.N. peacekeepers now monitor a 30-year-old cease-fire between Moroccan forces and Polisario supporters.

The U.N. has expressed concern that Trump’s decision — in exchange for Morocco normalizing diplomatic ties with Israel — could thwart negotiation efforts in the long-running Western Sahara conflict. Many countries, including Germany, support a U.N.-brokered political solution.

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David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.