The Moroccan foreign ministry summoned Algeria's ambassador Tuesday to protest its alleged expulsion of Syrian refugees across their common border, in the latest spat between the feuding neighbours.

Algeria has already rejected the accusations, saying on Monday that its border guards had merely refused to allow Syrian nationals deported by Morocco onto its territory.

Moroccan Deputy Foreign Minister Mbarka Bouaida told the Algerian envoy of the kingdom's "strong disapproval" of the expulsion of 77 Syrian nationals onto Moroccan territory between Sunday and Tuesday, the ministry said.

The Moroccan interior ministry said earlier that it had protested the move by the Algerian authorities, which was "contrary to the rules of good neighbourliness," adding that 18 women and 43 children were among the Syrians expelled.

But Hassan Amari, a human rights activist in the Moroccan border town of Oujda, the main entry point for migrants entering from Algeria, told AFP he had spoken to 12 Syrians freshly arrived in Morocco who all said they had entered voluntarily to visit their families.

Tensions between the North African neighbours, linked to their sharp differences over the Western Sahara, have escalated since Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika publicly criticised Morocco over its human rights record in the disputed territory, most of which it occupies.

Rabat recalled its ambassador to Algiers in protest at the October speech, and early the following month a Moroccan protester broke into the compound of Algeria's consulate in Casablanca and tore down the country's flag.

Morocco is also highly sensitive to criticism of its policy towards migrants and asylum-seekers, with a rise in the number of sub-Saharan Africans entering the kingdom over the past 12 months -- mostly via Algeria -- in their quest to reach mainland Europe.

 

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