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Thursday, 18 July, 2002, 18:40 GMT 19:40 UK
Q&A Spain v Morocco
Spain and Morocco are in the thick of a territorial dispute over a tiny Mediterranean island, known as Perejil to Spaniards and Leila to Moroccans. BBC News Online asks what it is all about.

Where and what is Perejil/Leila?

The island is 200 metres from the Moroccan coast in the straits of Gibraltar, and is about the size of a football pitch.

It has had no human inhabitants for 40 years, but is sometimes visited by Moroccan herdsmen who take their goats to graze there.

Click here for a map of the area

The name Perejil, in Spanish, means parsley, because the herb has been known to grow there in the wild.

Why is it suddenly at the centre of a political storm?

Six Moroccan soldiers raised their national flag on the island on 11 July. Morocco said they were there to prevent the island being used by drug smugglers and terrorists.

But Spain ordered them to leave, then removed them by force in the early hours of 17 July.

So who does the island belong to?

Its status is ambiguous, and has been so since Madrid's protectorate over nearby parts of Morocco came to an end in 1956.

Spain's rule over the island began in 1668, long before Morocco came into existence.

Spain has also retained two enclaves on the mainland - Ceuta and Melilla - and a number of other rocks and islands.

But Morocco insists the question of ownership of all these territories has never been settled.

Did this dispute arise out of the blue?

No. Relations between the two countries have been deteriorating for months.

In October, Morocco withdrew its ambassador from Madrid, and in January it said proposed Spanish oil prospecting off the Canary Isles was an "unfriendly" act. In July, Rabat protested at Spanish warships cruising too close to Morocco's coast.

Back in 1999, Moroccan Prime Minister Abderraman Yusufi used a visit by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar as an opportunity to raise territorial issues.

He said the current status of the enclaves "could not last" and proposed a joint committee to discuss their future. Mr Aznar said later that Spain would ignore the proposal.

What does the international community think?

The European Commission initially backed Spain, calling for the Moroccan soldiers to be removed immediately from the island.

It has since subtly changed tack, calling on Madrid and Rabat rapidly to renew talks aimed at finding a long-term solution to the dispute.

The Arab League has said it considers the island to be part of Morocco.

For its part, the United States has called for a return to the situation on 10 July, when there were no troops on the island from either Morocco or Spain.

US officials have said off the record that Washington does not recognise either Spanish or Moroccan sovereignty over the island.

How can the dispute be resolved?

Spain has said it will withdraw its soldiers from the island, if it gets guarantees that Moroccan soldiers will not return.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has said Madrid is not seeking tense relations with Morocco and will keep diplomatic channels open.

The US and the UN have offered to mediate, but Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio told the BBC that mediation was necessary only in complicated cases, such as the Middle East, or the Balkans, whereas Perejil/Leila was "clear cut".

She said Spain was prepared to sit down at the negotiating table with Morocco to talk about a range of bilateral issues, but not about Perejil/Leila in isolation.

At the same time, she insisted that Ceuta and Melilla could not be discussed under any circumstances.

Map of the region

Click here to return

The BBC's Jonathan Charles
"The island is not much bigger than a football pitch"
Ana Palacio, Spanish Foreign Minister
"Spain does not want to remain on Perejil"

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18 Jul 02 | Europe
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