Algeria smuggling crackdown cuts fuel line to Morocco

Updated 28 December 2013

Algeria smuggling crackdown cuts fuel line to Morocco

OUJDA, Morocco: Until three months ago, petrol smuggling literally drove Morocco’s neglected eastern region, where the subsidized liquid smuggled in from Algeria fueled the local economy.
But in June, Algiers took drastic measures to curtail the illegal trade, clamping down on traffic across its border with Morocco, which has officially been closed since 1994.
“Since the Algerians shut the border my car hasn’t budged,” one Moroccan resident of the area told AFP.
The unofficial cross-border movement of people and goods has long been a feature of daily life here, with members of the same families living either side of the divide and much money to be made from contraband.
Algiers beefed up its border controls in a bid to stem the haemorrhaging of cheap Algerian fuel, through which the state was losing $1.3 billion a year, according to energy ministry figures.
Before the clampdown, some 600,000 cars were estimated to be running on Algerian fuel smuggled into neighboring countries, notably Morocco.
It remains unclear what prompted the move by Algiers, although it coincided with an outburst of particularly hostile rhetoric from senior officials in both countries.
In energy-rich Algeria, petrol and diesel cost as little as 23 dinars (0.23 euros) and 13.4 dinars (0.13 euros) a liter respectively.
By contrast, its western neighbor and regional arch-rival imports virtually all its energy needs, with motorists paying more than one euro for a liter of petrol.
So the Algiers move had serious implications for the Oriental region of Morocco, as it is known, with its population of more than two million.
“My car carried up to one ton of diesel, two or three times a week. Today it’s good for nothing,” complained one man in his 30s, sipping tea near the Zouj-Bghal border post.
Since acceding to the throne in 1999, King Mohamed VI has sought to promote development in the remote region, launching projects from factories to infrastructure, including a motorway connecting Oujda to the capital Rabat, 520 kilometers (320 miles) away.
But decades of neglect and its remote location, far from Morocco’s commercial centers on the Atlantic coast, have made the region heavily dependent on covert trade — and remittances from Moroccans living abroad.
The first painful consequence of Algeria’s new policy was a jump in contraband fuel prices, 30-liter cans of diesel nearly tripling in price and fares charged by the ubiquitous white Mercedes taxis rising with it, by 20 percent.
“We are fed up with this situation. One day we’re going to take over the streets with our cars and block everything,” said Fathi Miri, one of thousands of taxi drivers now struggling to survive.
Because of the reinforced border controls, and ditches that smugglers say have been dug by the Algerian authorities since June, the only viable way to haul goods across the border now is by donkey.
Loaded with jerrycans, the pack animals travel after dusk in their hundreds, through olive groves and along steep winding paths that they follow instinctively, transporting their precious cargo.
But it can be a dangerous journey.
“The Algerian army recently fired at some donkeys and killed them. Fortunately they were unaccompanied on the Algerian side,” said one Moroccan living near the border.
But given the new challenges to transporting fuel, some smugglers have turned to people trafficking.
“I help Moroccans into Algeria and Algerians into Morocco,” said one.
“I get 300 dirhams (28 euros) for each client transported across the border. But with the onset of winter, there will be no one,” he added.
Until Algeria tightened its border controls, more than 18,000 people lived off fuel smuggling, said Hassan Ammari of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), who questions what they will do now.
As a stopgap measure, the Moroccan government is sending around 700 tons of fuel to the region daily.
But this is a drop in the ocean, compared with the 300,000 tons that used to arrive from Algeria, said Mohamed Benkaddor, president of the region’s consumer protection association.
Oujda’s Islamist MP Abdelaziz Aftati, contacted by AFP, called for an official reopening of the border, which has been closed at considerable cost to both sides since 1994, after a guerrilla attack on a hotel in Marrakesh which Rabat blamed on Algerian intelligence.
“Cooperation between our two countries is necessary, whatever the differences,” Aftati said.
However, this view does not seem to resonate in Algeria, where government officials earlier this month hailed the clampdown on smuggling, saying it was starting to “bear fruit.”


Sudan calls on UN to urge Ethiopia, Egypt not to take unilateral measures on Renaissance Dam

Updated 21 min 12 sec ago

Sudan calls on UN to urge Ethiopia, Egypt not to take unilateral measures on Renaissance Dam

  • Sudan is arranging to continue its bilateral meetings with the Egyptian and Ethiopian ministers to start negotiations

DUBAI: Sudan called on the United Nations Security Council to urge Ethiopia and Egypt to refrain from taking any unilateral measures regarding the Renaissance Dam, the state news agency SUNA reported on Wednesday. 
The Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources, Yasser Abbas, said the memorandum submitted by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Asma Abdalla, to the Security Council was a statement of “Sudan’s inherent right to this important file.” 
Abbas said the letter asked the Security Council to urge all parties to refrain from taking any unilateral measures that may affect regional and international peace and security.
He said Sudan was arranging to continue its bilateral meetings with the Egyptian and Ethiopian ministers to start negotiations on the Renaissance Dam, which has been stalled since last February.
He said the video conference meetings would be held with each delegation separately. 
In the letter sent to the Security Council, Abdalla said Sudan was keen to resume the tripartite Renaissance Dam negotiations with Egypt and Ethiopia.
Abdalla, who became Sudan’s first female Minister of Foreign Affairs last year in the transitional cabinet of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, said her country was ready “to reach a comprehensive and satisfactory settlement.”