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Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 14:45 GMT 15:45 UK
Analysis: Spanish or Moroccan land?
Helicopter lands on the frigate Navarra
Spain has stepped up its military presence in Ceuta
Paul Reynolds

Whenever the future of Gibraltar is discussed, British newspapers and politicians like to mention the Spanish cites of Ceuta and Melilla on the North African coast.


Only a blind man would deny Morocco's rights to Ceuta and Melilla

King Hassan
For critics of Spain, the Spanish presence on land Morocco claims as hers is evidence of hypocrisy.

For Spain, Ceuta and Melilla, both cities of some 60,000 people, are part of the homeland, even though separated from it. Ceuta is almost directly opposite Gibraltar. Melilla is about 200 miles further east.

The Moroccan occupation of a small uninhabited island near Ceuta called Perejil (Parsley) by Spain and Leila by Morocco - and the subsequent protests in Madrid that the island is Spanish - has again seen such arguments deployed.

Click here for a map of the area

The Spanish reject any comparison with Gibraltar.

Gibraltar, they argue, was clearly Spanish before it was captured by Admiral Sir George Rooke during the War of Spanish Succession because the King of Spain agreed to give it to Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

Britain agreed in that Treaty to offer it back to Spain if it decided to leave.

Ceuta and Melilla, on the other hand, the Spanish say, have been Spanish since the 15th Century, long before Morocco was founded.

Franco's launchpad

They were set up as part of a chain of Spanish forts along the African coast and have developed into thriving Spanish cities.

They are now, incidentally, such magnets for illegal immigrants that they have been surrounded by fences.

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

It was therefore only natural, in the Spanish view, for Spain to retain these cities when it withdrew from elsewhere in Morocco in 1956.

Spain also retained several small islands which they also claimed. One of them was Parsley.

Ceuta and Melilla also hold a place in the hearts of the right wing in Spain.

It was from them that Generalissimo Franco launched his civil war in 1936. There is still a large though crumbling and graffiti ridden monument to Franco in Ceuta.

Forthright king

It is probably no coincidence that the Moroccan occupation took place during the wedding celebration of the Moroccan King, Mohammed VI.

His father King Hassan always laid claim to the enclaves.


We are not going to pay any attention to any Moroccan claims

Spanish position on Ceuta and Melilla
"Only a blind man would deny Morocco's rights to Ceuta and Melilla; only an obstinate fool would question them," was how he put it.

Moroccan scholars also say that there has been a Moroccan kingdom - and therefore sovereignty - since the Idrissid dynasty in Fez in the eighth century.

But King Hassan did little to press his claim.

The young King Mohammed has been more forthright.

When the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar paid a visit in 1999, shortly after the King came to the throne, the meeting took place in a room where the two enclaves were marked on a map as Moroccan.

The Moroccan Prime Minister Abderraman Yusufi said: "The current status cannot last".

Historical oddities

Morocco suggested a joint committee to discuss the future of the enclaves.

Border crossing
Moroccans frequently pass into and out of Ceuta
But Aznar's own Popular Party replied at the time: "We are not going to pay any attention to any Moroccan claims".

And that remains the Spanish position.

Such historical oddities can, in fact, co-exist quite happily with their big neighbours.

Just of the coast of Newfoundland are the small French islands of St Pierre and Miquelon, population 6000.

Arriving by ferry in St Pierre is like arriving in a small town on the coast of Normandy. The transition is made even more atmospheric if there is thick fog on the Grand Banks as there often is.

And yet St Pierre has always existed quite happily next to Canada, even though it's an integral part of France.

It suffered one or two British occupations over the centuries but was always handed back.

Al Capone found it a useful base for smuggling liquor during Prohibition.

Newfoundlanders like to go there for the food.



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