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Thursday, 25 July, 2002, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Was Spain right to retake the disputed island of Perejil?
The territorial dispute over the Mediterranean island of Perejil looks closer to being resolved after Morocco agreed not to send troops back to the island if Spain withdrew its forces.
Morocco's foreign minister Mohamed Benaissa made the offer of reconciliation after Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said he was willing to resolve the row through diplomatic channels.
The tiny islet off the Moroccan coast, which is no larger than a football pitch, came under the international spotlight after Spanish forces recaptured the island from Moroccan soldiers on Wednesday.
Perejil, known to Moroccans as Leila, has been at the centre of a dispute between the two countries since 11 July when Morocco sent a dozen soldiers to occupy the uninhabited island, claiming the move was part of an effort to crack down on terrorism and illegal immigration.
What is your reaction to the current situation in Perejil? Was Spain right to retake the island? What do you think should happen to the disputed land? What impact will this situation have on the neighbouring Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla?
This Talking Point is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
By what right does Morocco call Ceuta and Melilla its own? Simple attachment to the African continent does not make it Morocco's. Does Morocco claim Algeria as its own as well? People seem to forget that geographically, Spain is practically attached to the African continent. So close in fact that one can see the other country from its coast. This is not a case of a nation claiming land a half a world away. This is simply a case of Spain existing in two continents much like Turkey does.
Well this business of that tiny uninhabited outcrop is of course slightly ridiculous in itself but it has the merit of highlighting the question of Ceuta and Melilla, those two Spanish enclaves on Moroccan territory. The Spanish say Ceuta and Melilla are not "up for negotiation", so why should those same Spaniard claim Gibraltar? Isn't it time for the British Government to stand up and tell the Spanish that, like Ceuta and Melilla, Gibraltar is not up for negotiation. In fact I think the whole affair is a perfect opportunity to "boomerang" back their logic to the Spanish instead of kowtowing to them. Gibraltar is a British town, full stop.
Elias Georgantas, Greece
As a European living in America, I am disappointed in the lack of European effort in this situation. The EU's oversized political monstrosity is debating back and forth about how to be recognized on the international scene, and then the US' Powell comes in and forwards a proposal instead. I hope the EU will eventually be a real Union once, and not just an excuse for even more politicians.
Yes, Spain was right to retake the island of Perejil (or Leila). But this has nothing to do with history, but with present politics. Relations between Morocco and Spain were at a low point because Spain does not back Moroccan claims over the Western Sahara, and rejects Moroccan claim over prospective oil fields 9 km off Fuerteventura (Canary Islands) and 100 km far from Tarfaya (Morocco). From my point of view, Morocco, which is backed by France and the U.S.A. in that two issues, just tried to reaffirm its position invading Perejil (or Leila). The Spanish Government was then forced to change its extremely mild politics towards Morocco and show its Government the Spanish people's majority feelings against the dictatorial regime that rules Morocco: we reject any of their out of law actions against the people of the Western Sahara, or any threats against Spain.
I am a Moroccan. I am very happy about the re-occupation of Parsley Island by Spanish forces. I'd be happier if Spain could have occupied Tetouan, Nador and Alhucimas, because our government is corrupt and the king wasted millions for his wedding while 95% of the population live in misery and risk their life to try to cross Europe. When we have democracy, human rights, freedom of speech , social security, like Spain has, then we'll probably ask for Parsley rock. Well Done Espana
Philip Kilner, UK
Frankly, I am sick of all these ridiculous comments about how this land was Spanish before Morocco existed. Maybe Morocco didn't exist in it's actual form, but believe me it's inhabitants did! And if we want to give history lessons then we can also claim that Andalusia is Moroccan and has been for centuries. Just look at the architectural wonders that we have left behind! I think Spain should stop its double standards.
I reject the simplistic arguments about geography, history and native ethnicities. Land ownership has always been decided by power. When one nation has imposed its will on a distant land then that land is owned by that nation. Colonialism didn't end in one day with a sudden change in the world. Imperialist powers simply lost the strength or economic incentive to maintain their possessions. If Spain is strong enough to keep Perejil then it belongs to them. There is no inherent nationality in a piece of land. Might decides where the borders are.
Spain is right to resist the aggression, but now needs to open negotiations to give the island to Morocco to which it geographically belongs - apparently within slingshot range! Nobody lives there, so the complexities of Ceuta and Melilla (and Gibraltar) do not apply. Keep it friendly by being reasonable!
The long and short of the matter is: Morocco violated Spain's sovereignty, no matter how close to Africa this island is. A border is a border, and must be respected as such. Spain acted correctly as a matter of principle, and its bloodless eviction of the Moroccan soldiers should be considered, at the very least, an act of generosity.
Proximity matters? What about Ulster? Democracy matters! If Moroccans want to fight, let them fight against their anachronistic dictatorship first, and later discuss sovereignty in a civilized manner.
Ibrahim Abdellah, Palestine
People look to history in order to justify their claim to a piece of land but this makes no sense at all. In fact it confuses the issue. With such reasoning, one could argue that half of France should be English, Italy should belong to the Pope, most of Arabia should belong to Turkey, and come to think of it, most of the Mediterranean coastline should be Italian. What matters nowadays is the people who live there and what they want. The fact that the island is empty suggest that Morocco has no claim to it and should have respected the status quo rather than creating one more conflict between the Islamic world and the Western world.
I believe than even though the action was heavy handed the situation justified the reaction, and I don't mean that the island itself justified the effort. It is just that when a dictatorship (Morocco, don't forget, is not a democracy) lands soldiers without any negotiation or warning and states that they are there to stay and don't listen to reason. something must be done. What would any democracy do? Imagine for example that a dictatorship tomorrow takes a very little and worthless rock off the Falkland islands and establishes a military presence there, what would the UK do?
Perejil is a colony, just as are Ceuta and Melilla and Gibraltar. The Moroccans surely have more of a claim to Perejil than Spain has claim to Gibraltar as Perejil is uninhabited and therefore there is no population to be consulted. Gibraltar on the other hand should stay British as its population wish to remain British.
Of course Spain was right. Those goats were Spanish goats and deserved to be freed from the oppressive bondage of Moroccan rule
Even for private property in the UK there are laws that state that if a piece of land is in common, undisputed usage by someone for a length of time (I think its seven years) then that land is legally theirs. This has always made a lot of sense to me. If the Moroccan goat farmers are the only people who have been using the land for half a century then as far as I'm concerned its theirs. No one else has wanted it during this time. The occupied colonies are, of course, more complex and should be the choice of the people there.
Neil Coleldge, France
This is a job that ideally an international criminal court should be able to step in and deal with: everyone is saying "mine, no mine" - they need someone to come in, take it away from both parties and get them to prove ownership and get a fair resolution out of both in a court of law. It's not just terrible, it's stupid to create tense relations and risk violent situations for citizens of either country because of this seemingly irrelevant but actually deep seated and complex land dispute.
Morocco was defending its legitimate rights on the island when it put some soldiers there to control drug trafficking and immigration. Because it is 200 metres from the Moroccan territory, geographically we can't admit that this island can be Spanish. Moreover, how can we interpret the occupation of two towns inside the Moroccan territory: Ceuta and Mililia? It's colonialism in the 21st century by a developed country claiming human rights, integrity of territories and international rights. There are contradictions between what Spain claims and what we are observing on the fields.
Consequently, the Perejil islet is Moroccan at 100%.
Spain should return back all the territories irrespective of whether the territories were under Spanish rule for the past 500 years. However the rights of the inhabitants of those territories should be respected by Morocco. To start with both countries should agree to share sovereignty over these territories until the transfer is completed.
This is ridiculous. No matter the history, how can Spain claim a land that is barely 200m away from Morocco.
Morocco and Africa should fight to retain the island.
Lupe, Madrid, Spain
I can agree with most, if not all of the comments by most of the Spanish contributions here stating that Perejil, Ceuta and Melilla have been Spanish a long time, and that the inhabitants clearly want to stay part of Spain. However, I cannot agree with the comments about Gibraltar. Whatever the circumstances, international law makes it British. Forgetting that, much more importantly, almost all the people who want to live there want to stay British. I therefore find Spain's actions in making life difficult and trying to marginalise the sovereign territory of another EU country inexcusable.
Personally, I am more than a little dumbfounded by this whole affair. The island is little more than a rock that is half a mile long, completely uninhabited, home to mostly seagulls, and has the odd bit of wild parsley growing there. I would love someone to explain to me why it's of any strategic importance to either Spain or Morocco. Still, this issue isn't about strategic military importance. It's about Morocco wanting to stick two fingers up at Spain. In my not so humble opinion, the whole thing is utterly pathetic.
Irakli West, Germany
I think that Spain does not know that the colonial time is over. Spain said that Ceuta, Melilla and the islands are parts of Spain because they have belonged to Spain since the 16th century. Could we say, using the same logic, that Andalusia should belong to Morocco since Moroccans were there for more than 6 centuries. Time has come that Spain should give up control over Ceuta, Melilla and the various islands that are parts of Morocco as Casablanca is.
If we consider geographical proximity as a real issue here, the I am expecting an occupation of Greenland from Canada's point of view in the near future? Should Italy claim Malta? How about the Canary Islands and the Falklands? Maybe we should settle Cyprus too? How many country boundaries have been established in Africa that have not taken any population or ethnicity into any account? There are diplomatic ways nowadays and Morocco can use those like anybody else, instead of putting a flag on a rock that is owned by someone else according to international law. As far as I know Spain has not occupied Gibraltar militarily, as yet. That makes all the difference.
I don't think a valid comparison between Gibraltar and Perejil can be made. The Spanish have been trying to obtain possession of Gibraltar only by diplomatic means, whereas Morocco just 'invades' the island, no matter how insignificant it may be. So which country is reverting back to the old colonial conquering ways here? It would be a different matter if the Moroccans made their claim in courts.
Spain should give this tiny Island back to Morocco, but certainly not immediately after a deliberate hostile invasion by the Kingdom of Morocco. The Spanish Government has acted immaculately, pursuing a diplomatic solution first and then recuperating the rock in a blood-free military action.
Of course the Spanish have a right to defend their land, but the comments here by the Spanish definitely smack of double standards. The responses stating that Ceuta and Melilla belong to Spain because the people living there regard themselves as Spanish is exactly the point the Gibraltarians are using as their claim to remain British, but Spain refuses to accept. So where is the difference?
Ron Tipton, USA
Everybody stating that Ceuta, Melilla and the small islands on the African coast belong to Morocco should read the encyclopaedia first and that way they would realize that the Moroccan Kingdom is a very recent entity, and that these territories belonged to the Kingdom of Spain near one century before the actual ruling Alawi dynasty started controlling certain areas of the actual Morocco.
By all means was Spain justified in its occupation of Perijil. One can only surmise as to how the United States would react if Mexico chose to send troops and raise its flag over one of the many uninhabited islets located off the coast of California or Texas. There is also the symbolism to consider: why did the Moroccans go so far as to place their flag on the islet? From a historical perspective, the placing of flags by occupying forces represented nothing less than outright conquest of a territory. Finally, if indeed Perejil was of any use as a counter to terrorist activities in the area, I would feel much more secure about having the Spaniards there vis a vis the Moroccans.
The Moroccans have deliberately provoked the Spanish and are themselves fully responsible for the Spanish counter-strike. Spain stood firm and Europe will stand firm if Morocco would decide to continue in their anti-Spain campaigns!
Richard, United Kingdom
So Morocco says they occupied Perejil to crack down on terrorist suspects and illegal immigrants that try to cross the Straits? Apart from the blunder of using military means first, these aims would be perfectly OK with Spain. As the islet has nothing of value to offer (except prestige), why don't Spain AND Morocco utilize Perejil jointly, eg by setting up a monitoring post?
Morocco has become a pain in the neck for Spain. It's a bad thing to have such a neighbour; a country with a medieval-like government, widespread corruption and an unloyal supposed friend. The Perejil Island occupation (which I agree isn't worth a single bullet) has been their last trial to test Spain. I think it's good to show them a harder position and then re-start dialogue.
To all the readers that think Spain is playing a double face game. Spain is not playing anything; we just protect our interest and territory as every country should do. I'm Spanish and I consider Ceuta as Spanish as Madrid and I will defend it the same way. .
Any proposal can be negotiated, but Morocco preferred to deploy soldiers. Ceuta and Melilla were Spanish before Morocco existed as a country, so we have to respect that sovereignity, as we do with Gibraltar.
Martin Marston-Paterson, Wales
Spain conquered Ceuta and Melilla in the 1490s just as the UK conquered Gilbraltar about 1710. If the UK gives Gilbraltar to Spain, then Spain should be prepared to give Ceuta and Melilla back to Morocco. It goes both ways. Spain ceded control over Gilbraltar in perpetuity, which if my dictionary is correct means 'forever'. Spain wants it's cake and eat too. Well, too bad.
This crisis is only a small part of an even larger one in diplomacy. It's time for all of Europe to renounce their deplorable past history of imperialism and make amends. Spain should relinquish its hold on these territorial possessions off the Morroccan coast in exchange for receiving Gilbraltar back from the U.K.
Like the British with the Falklands, Spain has a right to protect its territory. The fact that Morocco wants the islands should not matter.
Daniel Vazquez, Galicia, Spain
Spain has a pretty solid case that island is theirs. That island has been part of Spain longer than the USA has been in existence. As for the proximity argument, Vancouver is within 30 miles of the US border. Does that mean that Canada should give us Vancouver? Furthermore, any ruling by an international court would be disputed by the loser so don't waste the paper on that solution.
It's ironic that Spain cannot see that the argument Morocco has with Perejil and Ceuta is the same that they have with Gibraltar. The difference being that Parsley can't vote whereas 27,000 Gibraltarians can.
Simon G, Belgium
Do not forget that Morocco is a dictatorship. The Moroccan government intends to keep Moroccan minds distracted from everyday difficulties and aggressions. Spain has nothing to lose with this dispute, whereas Morocco does. It would be much more attractive for Moroccans to fight for democracy and not for this islet.
The islet belongs to Spain for historical reasons but has been in a state of "non-occupation" for quite a long time. Now the Moroccan army goes and plants their flag. What was Spain expected to do? If Morocco claims sovereignty over Perejil, there are better ways to go about it rather than invading the tiny island. Spain is legitimate in forcing the situation back to normal, when neither of the countries had a presence on the rock.
I hope Spain hammers a nail in the coffin of the colonial era and returns the Moroccan land in a festive ceremony.
Morocco is trying to solve its huge internal problems with these kinds of actions. Besides, the Moroccan king hasn't forgiven the Spaniards for trying to help the people of the occupied territories of the Sahara.
I don't think proximity is a legitimate reason. Gibraltar should remain British and Ceuta should stay Spanish. It is the people of these regions who have the right to decide alone.
People who say that Melilla and Ceuta were Spanish before Morocco existed make me laugh. Spain was created in the 15th Century by the union of Castilla, Leon and Aragon. Morocco has existed for centuries, and ruled a huge part of Spain for eight centuries, so Morocco existed before Spain. Spain can't claim Gibraltar and keep Ceuta and Malilla, it is just a logical matter, but Spaniards still live in colonial times, thinking the whole world belongs to them.
Koen Byl, Belgium/Spain
I would like to say that Ceuta and Melilla were never taken by force. Gibraltar is a completely different entity and situation. It is wrong to compare the two.
They can keep Perejil and we'll keep Gibraltar. That seems fair to me!
How could an island 200 metres off the coast belong to another country. When did Morocco cease to have a history? There was a Morocco long before there was a Europe.
I strongly recommend Lee Jackson studies a little more history, because his comments are laughable, especially for someone from a country with just 250 years of history. That islet has belonged to Spain since 1668, so they have the right to reclaim it. This issue cannot be compared to the situation in Gibraltar: the Brits have shown far more respect to the Spanish than the Moroccans.
Spain is completely right to retake the island because it still belongs to Spain. It has belonged to us since 1668 when Portugal gave Spain Ceuta and the island of Perejil.
This all seems a little bit hypocritical of the Spanish at a time when they are desperate to reclaim Gibraltar. I don't see how they can claim sovereignty of Gibraltar (which they gave away by treaty) only to claim islands off the Moroccan coast - how bizarre!
Raul Alvarez, Ceuta, Spain
To Raul Alvarez: The residents of Gibraltar would love to vote in a referendum on their future. If only the Labour government would let them. I hope the Moroccans return when the Spanish leave again!
As we all know, Spain believes passionately that decolonisation must progress and that territories should be handed back to their "rightful" owners. For example, look at Spain's attitude to Gibraltar. Surely the Spanish would not maintain an inconsistent, two-faced policy by seeking to retain Ceuta, Melilla and various islands when they should rightly be returned to Morocco.
They should be returned to Morocco. After all, they are in Morocco, not Spain.
I have family links in Melilla and Ceuta. My grandfather built the lighthouse in Melilla and most of my family have been living there for quite a few years, but we are in the 21st century now, and personally I think those territories are part of Morocco more than Spain, in terms of proximity. You just have to see the people in the streets. I like those towns and they are part of my history, but the truth is that they are far away from mainland Spain.
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