Moroccan prime minister claims Algeria is using drama over migrants as propaganda tool

Prime Minister Driss Jettou firmly denied charges that Morocco had abandoned African migrants in the desert as they tried to make their way to Europe, and lashed out at neighboring Algeria, claiming it was behind the allegations.

He alleged that Algeria was helping to stage the migrant dramas in the Western Sahara desert.

The sharp tone of Jettou's statement Sunday was likely to increase tension between the two North African neighbors, whose differences over the disputed Western Sahara territory have soured ties for years.

Meanwhile, Morocco sent hundreds more sub-Saharan Africans home on special flights Sunday after rounding them up at a military base in Goulimine, in the south. The Africans came to Morocco in droves in a bid to reach two Spanish enclaves in the north, Melilla and Ceuta, and gain a foothold in Europe.

The flights from Goulimine represented a second wave in deportations that began last week in the eastern city of Oujda, with nearly 1,600 Senegalese and Malians returned home. A total of 724 migrants were shipped out from Goulimine in less than two days, the official MAP news agency said.

Last week, the Polisario Front movement leveled new charges that Morocco was dumping some migrants in the Western Sahara desert. The Polisario _ which is backed by Algeria _ seeks independence for the disputed territory, which Morocco annexed in 1975 and claims as its own. The Polisario news agency alleged that migrants were picked up in Polisario-controlled territory.

Western aid groups last week made similar allegations that Morocco had left some migrants in the desert south of Oujda, in northeastern Morocco _ far from the Western Sahara _ before taking them to centers for flights home. Some migrants confirmed those accounts.

Jettou claimed that Algeria and the Polisario were using the migrant drama as political "propaganda" for the Western Sahara cause.

The prime minister, in his statement, "vigorously denounced this exploitation," and criticized Algeria for failing in its responsibility to stop migrants from crossing into Morocco.

He insinuated that Algeria was staging the desert dramas of the migrants by gathering them around Tindouf, southern Algeria, where the Polisario is based.

"As Morocco fulfills its obligations and deploys major efforts in the face of the massive flux of illegal migrants coming essentially from the Algerian borders ..., the government deplores that not only is Algeria not assuming its responsibilities in the transit through its territory, but in addition it attempts to manipulate" the situation, the prime minister said.

He claimed that Algeria was gathering "candidates for illegal immigration" in Tindouf "to make them a propaganda tool in the Sahara conflict."

Morocco for years fought a guerrilla-style desert war with the Polisario. Since a 1991 cease-fire, the United Nations has worked to organized a referendum on the territory's fate, AP reported. V.A.

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