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Friday, 12 July, 2002, 18:46 GMT 19:46 UK
Analysis: Spain and Morocco raise the stakes
Perejil
Perejil is one of the disputed islands

The military stand-off that has been developing between Morocco and Spain around a group of tiny islands in the western Mediterranean has dramatically raised the stakes in a growing diplomatic feud between the two countries.

They have embarked on rival campaigns of gunboat diplomacy on a significant day as far as both countries are concerned.


The two governments may find they have started something they cannot easily subdue

For the Moroccans, it has coincided with the start of three days of public celebration marking the marriage of King Mohammed VI.

The Moroccan authorities have been quick to accuse Spain of deploying its warships close to Morocco with the specific intention of ruining the national festivities.

It must be said, though, that this concern did not deter Morocco from moving its token military force onto a tiny island claimed by Spain only days before the wedding party, surely knowing that this would provoke a Spanish response.

For the Spanish, the spat coincides with an announcement in London that Britain is prepared to share sovereignty with Spain in Gibraltar.

Nationalist emotions

Spain holds on to its enclaves in north Africa using very similar historical arguments as those used until now by Britain concerning its claim on Gibraltar.

Behind this dispute about these rocky Mediterranean outcrops is the fear in Madrid that Morocco is preparing to move against all the Spanish enclaves, in the same way that Morocco took over the Spanish-controlled Western Sahara in 1975.

Such a move now would be regarded by Spain as an act of war.

And even though both sides seem to be making an effort to limit this stand-off to a sabre-rattling exercise, nationalist emotions on both sides are increasing to such an extent that the two governments may find they have started something they cannot easily subdue.


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