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Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 12:20 GMT 13:20 UK
Morocco seeks dialogue in island row
Island of Perejil/Leila
Spain wants Moroccan troops to leave the islet
Moroccan Foreign Minister Mohamed Benaissa has again stressed that his government is keen to resolve "through dialogue" its differences with Spain over the disputed Mediterranean island of Perejil.

Moroccan soldiers patrol the Perejil island
Morocco says 'it will not for the time being withdraw the observation post'
"How far are we going to go? Not too far," Mr Benaissa said in a BBC interview, adding that he was going to contact his Spanish counterpart to "embark on talks".

His statement follows a warning by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar who said Madrid would not allow not Morocco to keep troops on the island.

On Monday, Mr Benaissa said Rabat wanted "to use all diplomatic channels to resolve this dispute", however he said Morocco had no intention of pulling its troops off the island, which it calls Leila.

The diplomatic row broke last week, when Morocco sent a dozen soldiers to the uninhabited island, in what it said was an effort to crack down on terrorism and illegal immigrants.

Click here for a map of the area

But Spain claims the soldiers have violated Spanish sovereignty, and Madrid has sent four warships to protect its North African enclaves of Ceuta - just east from Perejil - and Melilla, further along the coast.

Political stand-off

On Thursday, about a dozen Moroccan troops set up a camp on the island and raised the Moroccan flag.

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

However, in his annual state of the nation speech in parliament on Monday, Mr Aznar did not threaten the use of force.

He said the government was making every diplomatic effort to restore what he called international legality.

He also made the point that Spain had important trade and aid relations with Morocco.

The European Union also called on Morocco to withdraw its troops, and the current holder of the EU presidency, Denmark, said it was in full solidarity with Spain regarding the island.

But Mr Benaissa - whose government is supported in the dispute by the 22-member Arab League - said the EU's reaction was disproportionate.

Historic dispute

The dispute with Morocco over Spain's remaining possessions in and off the north African mainland has never been settled.

Fraught relations
October 2001: Morocco withdraws Madrid ambassador
January 2002: Morocco says proposed Spanish oil prospection off the Canary Isles is "unfriendly" act
April: Spain says it is up to Morocco to decide whether to reinstate Madrid ambassador
June: Moroccan press attacks Spain over immigration policy
July: Morocco protests at Spanish warships cruising too close to its coast

Under a 1956 agreement - when Morocco gained independence - Spain has kept the coastal enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, which it had held for centuries.

But Morocco strongly disputes Spanish control over several rocky islands, insisting that the Perejil island has never been included in any agreement and that Spain has never claimed its sovereignty over it.

The rocky island lies just 200 metres (220 yards) off the Moroccan shore in the Straits of Gibraltar, and is roughly the size of a football field.



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See also:

15 Jul 02 | Europe
14 Jul 02 | Europe
15 Jul 02 | Europe
12 Jul 02 | Europe
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