(photo credit: AP)
The Moroccan delegation withdrew from celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of the Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi leader's coup, in protest against representatives from the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the Moroccan government in Rabat announced Tuesday.
The Moroccan delegation headed by Prime Minister Abbas Al-Fasi, left the celebration grounds in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, after noticing that the president of the SADR - a separatist party which lays claim to the Western Sahara - was among the invitees, Moroccan news agency, Maghreb Arabe Presse, reported.
A delegation of the Moroccan king's security forces was scheduled to participate in a special military parade to mark Gaddafi's 40th year in power, but immediately cancelled its participation when it heard about the Sahrawi participants.
The government in Morocco expressed dismay and said the development was unanticipated, since Rabat had double-checked ahead of time.
Morocco is demanding immediate clarifications from Tripoli for what it called "unsympathetic behavior towards the feelings of the Moroccan people."
Morocco has a long-standing conflict with the Polisario Front, a Sahrawi rebel movement related to SADR, over the disputed Western Sahara.
The contested area sits between Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and the Atlantic and is one of the world's driest and most inhospitable environments.
Morocco virtually annexed the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara in 1976 and claimed the rest of the territory in 1979 after Mauritania withdrew.
Morocco claims and administers Western Sahara, whose sovereignty remains unresolved.
A guerilla war between the Polisario Front and the Moroccan army ended with a UN-brokered cease-fire which has been in place since 1991, but both sides still maintain their claims to the area.
The Polisario maintains a government-in-exile in Algeria representing the SADR, led by President Mohamed Abdel Aziz.
Several states have extended diplomatic relations to the SADR government-in-exile, while others recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
The fact that the dispute is flaring up on Libyan soil comes as no surprise, as hundreds of high-ranking individuals are flocking to the country to attend the mass celebrations for the 67-year-old leader. There was speculation that this would cause diplomatic friction among some participants.
"Gaddafi has always thought of himself as bigger than Libya and bigger than Libya's borders," Dana Moss, a fellow at the Washington Institute, told The Media Line. "In the early years we saw him turning towards pan-Arabism along the Nasser model, and [now] we see him championing a United States of Africa. Funnily enough he sees himself as the leader of this eventual confederation of states and he sees its headquarters in Tripoli."
The celebrations were attended by many leaders from the Arab and Islamic world, but Western leaders mostly stayed away and sent lower ranking officials in their place.
The festivities were overshadowed by the recent return of the Lockerbie bomber from Scotland, who had been convicted of the attack on the Pam Am flight in 1988, in which 270 people were killed.
Terrorist Abdel Baset al-Megrahi is in a Libyan hospital with terminal prostate cancer, and both his August release and his subsequent hero's welcome in Tripoli met with public indignation and official condemnation in the UK and abroad.
Jpost.com staff contributed to this report.