Algeria proposed Saturday to boost cooperation with North African neighbors against terror and organized crime as the five-nation Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) held its first high-level conference since 1996.
Algeria sought "true and effective Maghreb cooperation in the fields of terrorism, organized crime, illegal arms and drug trafficking and clandestine immigration," Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci told counterparts in Rabat.
The meeting is also the first since two members, Tunisia and Libya, went through the upheavals of the Arab Spring.
"Given the acceleration in events, Maghreb countries must coordinate their positions to make the UMA a regional partner, in particular for the European Union," Medelci added.
The five-nation UMA was created in February 1989 as a trade bloc meant to eventually achieve deeper political integration.
Its last summit was in 1996, mainly because of a dispute between Morocco and Algeria over Western Sahara, but Tunisia's newly-installed administration is now offering to host one later this year.
The fifth member country is Mauritania.
A main goal of the present meeting is to prepare the next summit and look at ways of establishing a unified market across most of northern Africa.
Morocco's King Mohammed VI called for the creation of a "new Maghreban order that takes account of the changes in Libya and Tunisia," where authoritarian regimes have been toppled but fledgling democracies face an uncertain future.
Medelci read a message from Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika that underscored the need for a pan-Maghreban body able to defend the region's interests with global partners.
Bouteflika urged the UMA to take "a realistic and progressive approach that takes accounts of our countries' interests and our peoples' ambitions."
Algeria and Morocco have been at odds over Western Sahara since Rabat occupied the former Spanish colony in 1975, with Algiers backing the separatist Polisario Front.
U.N.-sponsored talks to try to resolve the dispute between Morocco and the Polisario over the future of the territory have stalled.
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