BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union's top court ruled Tuesday that a fisheries agreement the bloc has concluded with Morocco can't include the waters off the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
The European Court of Justice said that the "Moroccan fishing zone" referred to in the pact "does not include the waters adjacent to the territory of Western Sahara."
Morocco considers the vast, mineral-rich Western Sahara its "southern provinces" and rejects anything considered a threat to its territorial integrity. The territory's status is one of the most sensitive topics in the North African kingdom.
Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975 and fought the Polisario Front independence movement. The U.N. brokered a cease-fire in 1991 and established a peacekeeping mission to monitor it.
But the Luxembourg-based ECJ said Western Sahara isn't part of Morocco, so its waters aren't part of the EU-Morocco agreement.
The court said including those waters would contravene "certain rules of general international law" such as the right to self-determination.
In Rabat, Morocco's Agriculture and Fisheries Minister told reporters that fishing activities would continue until next July, a period set out in the EU-Morocco agreement.
"This is a reasonable time to start negotiations for the future," he said, adding that both parties "will have to adapt the mechanisms of the fisheries agreement to be consistent with the judgment of the court."
The minister underlined that the ruling doesn't legitimize or recognize Polisario.
In 2015, the ECJ annulled an EU-Morocco agricultural accord based on a complaint by Polisario that the Saharan people should have been consulted first.
That ruling prompted protracted diplomatic tensions between the EU and Morocco, a key Western trade partner and ally on counterterrorism and migration.
AP writer Amira El Masiti in Rabat, Morocco, contributed to this report.