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Wednesday, 17 July, 2002, 02:02 GMT 03:02 UK
Spain recalls envoy in island row
Island of Perejil/Leila
Morocco is under immense pressure to leave the islet
The Spanish Government has recalled its ambassador to Morocco amid a spat between the two countries over the tiny island of Perejil.

The Office for Diplomatic Information said Fernando Arias Salgado was called home for an indefinite period because Rabat had failed to respond to a letter Madrid sent on 11 July, when Morocco sent a dozen troops to the uninhabited island.

Click here for a map of the area

The presence of troops on the island, which lies within Moroccan territorial waters but which Spain lays claim to, has become the focus of high tension.

Morocco, which says it sent the troops as part of effort to crack down on terrorism and illegal immigration, has refused to withdraw the soldiers - rebuffing both warnings from Spain as well as pressure from the European Union and Nato to do so.

Sovereignty issues

Tuesday saw Spain order a fifth warship to take a position near the island, joining four other ships which were sent out earlier to protect the country's North African enclaves of Ceuta - just east from Perejil - and Melilla, further along the coast.

Perejil island
200m off the Moroccan shore in the Straits of Gibraltar
Less than 1km in diameter
Rocky and uninhabited
Visited by herdsmen who take their goats to graze
Named after the wild parsley which grows there - Perejil means "parsley" in Spanish
Known in Morocco as Leila

Spain says the soldiers violate Spanish sovereignty, but Morocco says the island, which lies just 200 metres (220 yards) off the Moroccan shore in the Straits of Gibraltar, forms part of its territory.

Morocco's Foreign Minister, Mohamed Benaissa, has said that his government is keen to resolve "through dialogue" its differences with Spain over the disputed island.

Mr Benaissa - whose government is supported in the dispute by the 22-member Arab League - said the reaction of both Spain and the European Union, which has called on Morocco to withdraw, was disproportionate.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, despite deploying the warships, has not threatened the use of force to remove the soldiers from the island.

He said the government was making every diplomatic effort to restore what he called international legality, and made the point that Spain had important trade and aid relations with Morocco.

That has been interpreted as a hint that economic sanctions are an option - perhaps through the suspension of a 1991 co-operation and friendship treaty.

The spat has coincided with an announcement in London that Britain is prepared to share sovereignty with Spain in Gibraltar.

Spain has held on to its enclaves in North Africa using very similar historical arguments as those used by Britain to justify its claim on Gibraltar.



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The BBC's Matt Prodger
"The island may be tiny, the problems it's causing, getting bigger by the minute"
See also:

16 Jul 02 | Europe
15 Jul 02 | Europe
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