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Algeria cuts diplomatic relations with Morocco

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Algeria's Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra speaks during a news conference in Algiers, Algeria August 24, 2021. REUTERS/Abdelaziz Boumzar

ALGIERS, Aug 24 (Reuters) - Algeria cut diplomatic relations with Morocco on Tuesday, citing what it called hostile actions by its most populous neighbour with which it has had strained relations for decades.

Speaking at a news conference in Algiers, Foreign Minister Ramdane Lamamra accused Morocco of using Pegasus spyware against its officials, supporting a separatist group and failing in bilateral commitments, including on the Western Sahara issue.

"The Moroccan kingdom has never stopped its hostile actions against Algeria," he said, announcing the immediate cessation of ties. Consulates in each country, however, will stay open, he added.

Morocco's Foreign Ministry said in a statement published on social media that it regretted what it called an unjustified decision and said it would remain a "credible and loyal partner" to the Algerian people.

While the border between the two North African powers has been closed since 1994, diplomatic relations have not been broken since they were restored in 1988 following an earlier dispute.

Morocco has said for years it wants the border to reopen. Algeria has said it must stay shut for security reasons.

Last week Algeria said lethal wildfires were the work of two groups it has labelled terrorists, including the MAK group which seeks independence for the Kabylie region and which Algeria said was backed by Morocco, without presenting evidence.

Algeria recalled its ambassador last month after a Moroccan diplomat in New York called for the Kabylie people to have the right of self-determination.

Morocco offered to send help to combat the fires, but there was no public response from Algeria.

Relations have deteriorated since last year, when the Western Sahara issue flared up after years of comparative quiet. Morocco regards the disputed territory as its own. Algeria backs the Polisario independence movement.

The Polisario said in November it was resuming its armed struggle. In December, the United States recognised Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in return for Rabat upgrading its relations with Israel.

Morocco has called Algeria "the real party" to the Western Sahara dispute.

"Algeria will remain firm in its positions on the issue of Western Sahara," Lamamra said.

He also accused Morocco of using Pegasus spyware for espionage against several Algerian officials. Morocco has denied possessing the software.

Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed, Additional reporting by Ahmed El Jechtimi, Writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by Catherine Evans, Mark Heinrich and Karishma Singh

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