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Frontiers in North Africa

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George Joffe

From Boundaries and State Territory in the Middle East and North Africa. MENAS Press, 1987
© 2002, revised version used by permission of the author
Print version available from the publisher

v) The 1963 border war and the 1972 treaty

Although Morocco agreed in 1961 that it would support Algerian territorial integrity against French attempts to separate off the Sahara - thus, incidentally, abandoning its own claims to the Western Algerian Sahara which, in pre-Protectorate times, had been considered to be under Moroccan suzereinty and sovereignty, in return for an Algerian promise that the common border would be negotiable - events immediately after the end of the Algerian war of independence disrupted these understandings. In September, October and November 1963, Morocco and the newly independent state of Algeria fought a short border war along a front from Figuig to Tindouf. The war, which was brought to an end by OAU mediation, was eventually resolved by a ceasefire delimitation in February 1964, whereby Morocco was confined to the Dra oases and thus away from Tindouf, while Algeria withdrew from the Figuig and Ich.

The border issue remained unresolved for the next eight years, largely because Morocco could not abandon its claims - even to the Algerian Sahara in the aftermath of the war - while Algeria clearly enjoyed the support of the OAU, given the Cairo resolution on colonial borders, and would not compromise on its claim for the old Algerian administrative border. In 1972, in the aftermath of two coup attempts against his regime and in the runup to Morocco's attempts to resolve the Western Sahara issue, Morocco and Algeria negotiated a final solution to their border problem (Brownlie 1979; 73-78). The treaty came in the wake of a 1969 treaty of solidarity and cooperation, signed at Ifrane in 1969 and the 1970 Tlemcen communique which set up a commission to delimit the border. The 1972 treaty implicitly accepted the inviolability of colonial frontiers and the pre-eminence of the original French Algerian administrative frontier running from the Dra to Figuig along what appears to be virtually the old 'Limite operationnelle'.

Although the June 15, 1972 treaty has been ratified, the border itself has not been demarcated. Nonetheless, it is certain that, once other disputes between Algeria and Morocco have been resolved, particularly the Western Sahara issue, the treaty will eventually define the border. At the same time, it does not resolve the wider issues of the extent to which France failed to honour its obligations under the Algeceiras agreement to preserve the integrity of the Sharifian empire. The territories of Gouara, Touat and Tidikelt have been permanently lost to Morocco because of their original conquest by French forces under the command of French authorities based within the Algerian colonial administration. French administrative practice from 1901 onwards, after all, merely expressed administrative disputes between two different colonial regimes stemming from the same metropolitan source.

It is difficult, therefore, to accept that the OAU principle of the intangibility of colonial frontiers should be accepted here and Morocco - which did not accept the 1964 OAU resolution - has preferred to rest its case on paragraph 6 of the UN General Assembly resolution No 1514 (XV) of 1960 which, although it generally supports the usual UN practice for decolonisation, does allow that no decolonisation procedure should disrupt national unity or territorial integrity. Thus, although Morocco has been prepared to compromise on the principle for the sake of harmony within North Africa as far as its borders with Algeria are concerned, the principle itself has not been relinquished. After all, Gouara, Touat and Tidikelt were under Moroccan administration when France occupied them, the argument runs, and were thus under Moroccan sovereignty which has been outraged by the post-colonial settlement.

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