January 16, 2009 / 9:05 AM / 11 years ago

Morocco closes Venezuela embassy over Polisario row

RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco said on Thursday it had closed its embassy in Venezuela in protest over Caracas’s support of the Polisario Front, which seeks an independent state in Western Sahara that Rabat claims as its territory.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the decision followed “increasing hostility by the Venezuelan authorities regarding the Kingdom of Morocco’s territorial integrity and recent measures to support (Polisario)”.

The ministry gave no details on the new measures taken by Venezuela to back the Polisario Front, which had enjoyed diplomatic support from Caracas even before President Hugo Chavez came to power.

Peacekeepers have watched over Western Sahara since 1991 when the United Nations brokered a ceasefire to end a guerrilla war between Polisario and Morocco, which annexed the northwest African territory in 1975.

The ceasefire terms included holding a referendum to let the inhabitants decide their future but it has yet to take place. Rabat now rules out such a vote and has French support for its proposal for only limited self-rule.

Polisario proposes a referendum among ethnic Sahrawis that would include an option of independence.

No country officially recognises Morocco’s rule over Western Sahara and the U.N. Security Council is divided over a solution.

Morocco’s decision to close its embassy in Caracas contrasts with the enthusiastic support for Chavez in the kingdom and other Arab countries over his decision to cut diplomatic ties with Israel over its military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

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