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Wednesday, 11 December, 2002, 12:21 GMT
Spain and Morocco to resume ties
Spanish soldiers on Perejil
Even before the Perejil crisis, relations were tense
The Moroccan and Spanish foreign ministers are meeting in Madrid for their first talks since tensions over the tiny island of Perejil erupted in July.

Both sides hope the meeting will result in the normalisation of diplomatic relations and the return of their respective ambassadors.

Relations between the two countries worsened when Spanish marines forcibly evicted some Moroccan soldiers from the island, which both countries claim.

There are many issues which divide the two neighbours, and no one expects the meeting to resolve any of the major problems between Spain and Morocco.

But the fact the two ministers are talking at all signifies progress.

Morocco's complaints

Moroccan Foreign Minister Mohamed Benaissa arrived in Madrid at 1030 (0930 GMT) on Wednesday morning, where he is meeting Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Mohamed Benaissa
Mr Benaissa is meeting his Spanish counterpart for the first time in five months
Last time they were scheduled to meet in September, Morocco cancelled at the last minute, accusing Spain of having violated its airspace the previous day.

This time the climate seems more positive, with a desire by both sides to normalise relations, says the BBC correspondent in Rabat, Stephanie Irvine.

Spain withdrew its ambassador in July over the Perejil dispute, while Morocco withdrew its ambassador the previous October without giving a reason.

Morocco's complaints with Spain are not limited to Perejil.

The most important is over the former Spanish colony in Western Sahara which Morocco controls.

Thorny issues

Rabat believes that Madrid favours the territory's independence movement - the Polisario Front - and is blocking the UN from approving Morocco's claim to sovereignty.

Then there are the Spanish north African enclaves - Ceuta and Melilla and various islands including Perejil which Morocco regards as occupied territory.

And then there is the problem of Spain wanting to prospect for oil in the waters between Morocco's Atlantic coast and the Spanish Canary Islands.

For its part, Madrid complains that Morocco does not do enough to stem illegal immigration and drug trafficking into Spain.

It also blames Rabat for the collapse of the European Union agreement that allowed Spain to fish Morocco's rich waters.

Our correspondent says it is unlikely any of these thorny issues will be resolved on Wednesday, but it is in both countries interest to improve relations.

Spain is the second biggest market for Morocco's exports after France and its second biggest investor.


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23 Sep 02 | Africa
22 Jul 02 | Media reports
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