October 23rd 1963 : When De Gaulle wanted Moroccans and Algerians to kill each other during the Sand War

On the 23rd of October 1963 Charles De Gaulle, head of the provisional government of the French Republic, and Alain Peyrefitte, the French Foreign Minister were discussing at the Elysee Palace the armed conflict between Morocco and Algeria, France’s two colonies. The border conflict between the two neighboring states lasted 4 months, 3 weeks and 5 days.

France King Hassan II of Morocco is welcomed in Paris by French President Charles de Gaulle./Ph. Pinterest
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If Fidel Castro, the Cuban politician and revolutionary and Jamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian President, rallied and helped the Algerians during the Sand War, a border conflict between Morocco and Algeria in October 1963, De Gaulle had decided to provide military assistance to both camps at the same time; playing a double game. This was revealed in 1994 by De Gaulle’s Foreign Minister, Alain Peyrefitte, in a chapter of his book entitled «C’était De Gaulle» (It was De Gaulle).

The first president of the 5th Republic had his own plans. He did not wish in any way to broker peace between the two neighbors, as proposed by his Foreign Minister. «These are Arabs’ stories», he told Peyrefitte.  

And to explain his hidden agenda, the French general and statesman indicated that : «They must fight, the Egyptians against the Syrians, the Syrians and the Kurds, etc. It’s been like that two thousand years ago. When we were there, we managed to impose peace, then, they turned against us. Now that we can no longer be the scapegoat, they are turning against each other,» says Peyrefitte.

«We help them kill each other»

De Gaulle had also declined the proposal of his Foreign Minister who suggested that France must remain neutral when approaching the armed conflict between Morocco and Algeria. «We must not proclaim anything at all. And first of all, it’s wrong», he told Peyrefitte. «We help Moroccans by providing them with weapons. We help the Algerians by allowing them to make use of our Colomb-Béchar aerodrome (a military base in Algeria controlled by France). To put it in other words, we are helping them kill each other. However, we should act as if we are neutral».

On the other hand, De Gaulle refused to discuss the leftovers of the French protectorate in the Maghreb. The French administration set borders between Morocco and Algeria, but these tracks were often misidentified and varied from one map to another. «Morocco wants Tindouf, to bring down Mauritania (proclaimed independent on the 28h of November 1960). We are interested in keeping the status quo, so that Mauritania would stay as long as possible» he told his Foreign Minister.

Despite the plans of the French President, the Soviet Union rushed to play the role of a mediator between Algeria and Morocco. Leonid Brezhnev, the former general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, went in person to Algiers and Rabat to convince the two parties of a cease fire. His efforts led to the signing of a peace treaty in 1964. On the 26th of October 1966, Hassan II visited for the first time Moscow.

De Gaulle's «neutrality» during the Sand War had undoubtedly contributed to this first rapprochement between the kingdom and the Soviet Union.

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