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Monday, 22 July, 2002, 19:52 GMT 20:52 UK
Spain and Morocco reach island deal
Spanish soldiers on Perejil
Spain sent 75 soldiers to dislodge Moroccan forces
The foreign ministers of Morocco and Spain have finalised a US-brokered resolution to their dispute over the Mediterranean island of Perejil.

After a meeting in the Moroccan capital Rabat, they endorsed the deal agreed on Saturday to leave the island unoccupied.

Spanish troops have withdrawn from the island which they took from Moroccan soldiers last Wednesday.

"The foreign ministers of the two countries formally confirmed an accord to restore and maintain the situation on the islet of Perejil/Leila which pre-dated July 2002," said a statement released following the talks.

It was the first direct meeting between the two countries since 11 July, when a dozen Moroccan soldiers landed on the normally uninhabited island and set up some tents and a flag.

The two ministers - Ana Palacio of Spain and Mohamad Benaissa of Morocco - pledged to "implement the accord in good will" and to "open a frank and sincere dialogue to strengthen bilateral relations."

Although both countries claim the island, Spain says it had an understanding that neither side would erect a permanent camp there.

The return to the status quo does not mean that Morocco has given up its claim to sovereignty of Perejil - known in Morocco as Leila.

Enclaves

Morocco was also hoping to take the opportunity to talk about all the issues of contention between the two countries.

These include the Western Sahara, clandestine immigration and fishing, as well as the future of the Spanish sovereign enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

Spain said it was willing to talk about anything except the enclaves.

A priority for both countries is also the return of their respective ambassadors and the renewal of normal diplomatic relations.

Morocco recalled its ambassador to Madrid last October, and Spain did the same last week.

EU snub

In Brussels, the European Commission, which had offered to negotiate between Morocco and Spain, expressed satisfaction that both sides had agreed to talk.

But some diplomats say that fact that the EU was snubbed in favour of US mediation revealed Brussels as powerless to enforce its will in difficult international matters.

Spain's El Pais newspaper said it was a "further demonstration of its weakness when it comes to resolving problems between partners and allies".

US Secretary of State Colin Powell was quoted as saying last week that both countries were good friends to the US.

Morocco - a moderate Arab state - is viewed by Washington as an important ally in the fight against international terrorism.

In June it was instrumental in foiling an alleged plot by al-Qaeda terrorists to attack British and US warships in the Straits of Gibraltar.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Khalid Alioua, Moroccan foreign ministry
"It will not be very constructive if we do not discuss the enclaves and other islands"
El Mundo Journalist Javier Espinosa in Rabat
"For the local people the dispute is nothing"

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22 Jul 02 | Media reports
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