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Mozambique, Morocco, Japan in three-way fight over Western Sahara in Maputo

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A fight broke out at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) ministerial meeting in Maputo last week as Moroccans tried to keep out delegates from the disputed Western Sahara territory, and Mozambicans tried to get them in.

Mozambique, which – along with the African Union (AU) – recognises Western Sahara’s claims of independence, says it had agreed with Japan that all members of the AU could attend the TICAD ministerial meeting.

Japan, however, disputes that interpretation, with the embassy in Maputo telling Zitamar News that it “did not invite Western Sahara to TICAD.”

‘This is not a banana republic’

Most participants were already seated in the main hall of the Joaquim Chissano International Conference Centre on August 24th, when a dispute broke out at the entrance as Moroccan participants tried to forcibly prevent the West Saharan delegation from entering the room.

Foreign minister Oldemiro Baloi told a press conference after the event: “They resorted to violence but very quickly we were able to maintain that this is not a banana republic.”

In a strongly-worded statement to the press on 28 August, the Mozambican foreign ministry said the Moroccan delegation had “usurped the competences of the joint organisers” of TICAD, even “resorting to violence” to keep out the delegation from Western Sahara.

The Mozambique ministry said Japan and the African Union had “reached a consensus for the participation of all members of the African Union in the meeting in Maputo”, and strongly condemned the Moroccans’ actions.

However, Zitamar News has seen a copy of a letter apparently from the Foreign Ministry of Japan, informing the African Union Commission in May that they would not invite Western Sahara to TICAD. The letter emphasises that Japan “does not recognize Western Sahara as a state”, and that TICAD is not a “Japan-AU bilateral forum” but rather a multilateral event led by Japan.

The Japanese Embassy in Maputo could not confirm the authenticity of the letter but did confirm Japan’s diplomatic stance over the dispute.

“We do not have any diplomatic relations with Western Sahara,” Jiro Maruhashi, deputy chief at the Japanese mission to Mozambique told Zitamar News. “We do not recognize the region as a country and we did not invite Western Sahara to TICAD,” he said.

According to a report in Jeune Afrique, the Western Saharan delegation were eventually seated with their Mozambican hosts by Baloi, after order was restored, which avoided having an official Western Sahara presence at the event.

‘Charm offensive’

Vish Sakthivel, adjunct fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Morocco’s behaviour is unlikely to garner sympathy from its partners in the African union – and will do particular harm to its relations with Mozambique.

“This will surely strain Mozambique-Japan relations in the shorter term, and possibly more severely strain the Mozambique-Morocco relationship,” she told Zitamar News. “It’s Morocco whose charm offensive is undermined by this turn of events.”

“Morocco has long wished to keep SADR [Western Sahara] out of such meetings as its presence undermines one of Morocco’s key goals in its increasing pursuit of involvement in such blocs in the first place, which is winning over African states to its claims to the Western Sahara, something many of the most important African players have long opposed,” she told Zitamar News.

In February 2017, the president of Western Sahara, Brahim Gali, was received by Mozambican president Filipe Nyusi on a state visit in Maputo.

© 2017, Zitamar Ltd. Reproduction and dissemination prohibited without written permission.

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