Western Sahara Movement Angry at EU-Morocco Fish Deal


The European Parliament on Tuesday adopted a new fishing agreement with Morocco that covers the adjacent waters of the disputed Western Sahara, angering the Algerian-backed Polisario Front independence movement.

The authors of the agreement, which replaces one that expired last July, stressed its terms will not undermine efforts to settle the long-running conflict between Morocco and the Western Sahara.

The deal acknowledged a ruling by the EU's top court in February last year, stipulating it would remain valid as long as it does not involve the Western Sahara.

"A new agreement on the legal, environmental, economic and social governance of EU vessels' fishing activities in Morocco and Western Sahara waters was approved on Tuesday," the European Parliament said.

With 415 votes in favour, 189 against and 49 abstentions, the deal was adopted by the European Parliament, one of the final hurdles in the 28-nation European Union.

The member countries must now sign off on it.

The parliament statement said it "does not prejudice political process on final status of Western Sahara," adding it took into "account the conclusions reached by the EU court of justice."

Under the deal, the total value of the fishing opportunities set in a protocol attached to the agreement over four years is estimated at 153.6 million euros ($174 million).

Before it was approved the parliament rejected a request to refer the agreement back to the European Court of Justice to see if it complies with EU treaties.

Morocco and the Polisario Front fought for control of Western Sahara from 1975 to 1991, with Rabat taking over the desert territory before a U.N.-brokered ceasefire in the former Spanish colony.

In February, the European Court of Justice said including the territory of Western Sahara and its adjacent waters within a fishing agreement between the EU and Morocco would be "contrary to certain rules of general international law."

But the European Commission, the EU executive arm, said it was "possible to extend bilateral agreements with Morocco to Western Sahara under certain conditions" in the negotiating mandate.

Rabat views Western Sahara as an integral part of the kingdom and has proposed autonomy for the resource-rich territory but the Polisario Front insists on a U.N. referendum on independence.

Mhamed Khadad, who heads the Polisario Front's foreign policy, denounced the fisheries deal as "an extra obstacle from Europe to the United Nations peace process."

Khadad added: "It rebels against European Court of Justice decisions. We condemn it and we will resort to the courts again."