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Monday, 15 July, 2002, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Tensions over 'Parsley' island
Moroccan children swim in front of Perejil
Morocco says the island lies in its territorial waters

It has been a big weekend in Morocco.

King Mohammed VI got married. The horns have been sounding, the music blaring all night and the nation's brave navy has gathered on the island of Perejil - whose name translates from Spanish as Parsley.

Spanish frigate
Spain has engaged in gunboat diplomacy
Known by Moroccans as Leila, the island is claimed by both Morocco and Spain, but is inhabited only by 50 ravenous goats with not a lonely goatherd in sight.

From the windy cliff opposite Parsley, it is clear that the herb that bestowed its name was long ago forcibly removed by the current tenants.

They have munched the island almost to a bare rock.

Click here for a map of the area

It is also clear why the Moroccans think this particular rock is theirs.

"The island is inside Moroccan waters," says one.

Security risk

But this is geography versus history. The Spanish ruled the Parsley goats when they held Morocco in a so-called protectorate until the 1950s.


There's a cave on the island. It's being used by Spaniards who are coming across to get Morocco's hashish

Moroccan guard

Since then, there has been an agreement that no-one would occupy it.

But the armed guard who keeps an eye on the island from the Moroccan coast explains that with drug smuggling, illegal immigration and al-Qaeda, Parsley is becoming a security risk.

"Parsley's being abused by smugglers," he says. "There's a cave on the island. It's being used by Spaniards who are coming across to get Morocco's hashish and take it home.

"What with the threat of al-Qaeda too, the Moroccans have simply had to put troops on the island."

Fish fight

In Parsley's neighbouring village, fisherman like Alami Mohammed have an idea why they think the Spanish do not want to let the island go.

He says they are still hankering after Morocco's fish.

"The Government of Spain, they haven't fish. But we have here in our water many fish and good fish. The Spanish people they want to keep Moroccan fish."

But drive for 20 minutes to Spanish Ceuta and you have a very different view.

Opinion in the El Refectorio fish restaurant - all barrel vault roof and bogus beams - is unanimous.

If you let the Moroccans get away with grabbing Parsley, we all know what they will want next.



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See also:

14 Jul 02 | Europe
12 Jul 02 | Europe
13 Jul 02 | Media reports
17 Dec 01 | Europe
22 Aug 01 | Europe
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