afrol News, 17 July - The Moroccan government has issued a clear warning against Spain, after Spanish troops this morning seized back control of the disputed island of Parsley (Perejil/Leila). The Moroccan government has asked the UN Security Council and the Arab League to assist in the dispute over this "integral part of Moroccan territory."
Spanish armed troops at 6:15 this morning took control the disputed island Perejil (known as Leila in Morocco) 200 meters off the Moroccan coast. The six Moroccan soldiers placed on the island were captured in a military operation without casualties. The soldiers were later handed over to Moroccan authorities from the Spanish exclave Ceuta (or "the occupied Moroccan city of Sebta," as a Moroccan government statement describes it today).
A communiqué issued today by Morocco's Foreign Ministry strongly protested Spain's military operation. "Confronted with this aggression, the Moroccan Kingdom demands, before anything else, the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Spanish armed forces from Leila Island, which is an integral part of Moroccan territory," the official statement said.
Morocco says "nothing justifies this illegal use of force at a time Morocco and Spain were conducting discussions and agreed to defuse the crisis through diplomatic channels." The Spanish and Moroccan Foreign Ministries yesterday had agreed to resolve the crisis without the use of force. Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio today however said diplomatic initiatives so far had shown that nothing could be achieved.
The Moroccan government explains that "while dialogue was being carried on over the past three days with the support and contribution of friendly countries helicopters of the Spanish army, supported by several gunboats, landed on the Moroccan islet of Leila [Perejil], violating Morocco's air space and territorial waters."
Morocco had "immediately submitted the issue to the United Nations, the Security Council, the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Conference and has, likewise, conducted several bilateral contacts with brotherly and friendly countries which are following the evolution of the situation," the government statement says.
Non-official reactions in Morocco have been even harsher. Morocco's ex-Minister of Defence and leader of one of the government coalition parties, Mahjoubi Aherdane, today said he considered the Spanish operation "a declaration of war and an error" which should lead to the total "break of relations" between Morocco and Spain.
In Spain, meanwhile, the occupation of Parsley Island has been hailed by the government and the opposition. The Spanish government had "found itself obliged to order an eviction of the Moroccan detachment," a statement issued by the Prime Minister's office had said. Also NATO - Spain's military partners - applauded the "re-establishment of status quo".
The European Union - which had fully backed Spain after Moroccan soldiers had set up camp "on EU territory" on 11 July - today called for tranquillity in the dispute over the island 200 metres off the North African continent. Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, said the time now had come for dialogue.
Except for the Arab League - which has backed Morocco's views - the international community seems to be united in its demand for the "re-establishment of status quo" on the island. "Status quo" is believed to be a gentlemen's agreement between Morocco and Spain not to deploy troops on Parsley Island and a dozen other disputed islands off Morocco. Spain has thus indicated its will to withdraw its troops from the island within short.
Spain's Foreign Minister Ana Palacio this afternoon however told Parliament that Spain would not withdraw its troops from the island until Morocco gives a guarantee that "the situation prior of 11 July" will be re-established, the Spanish press reports. Spain thus demands a permanent demilitarisation of Perejil Island, however without demanding a clarification of the sovereignty over it.
Meanwhile, the amused third party to the Spanish-Moroccan conflict is the government of the British exclave Gibraltar. Last week - under heavy protest from Gibraltar - the British government agreed to a split British-Spanish sovereignty over the tax-free rock. Spain, referring to decolonisation, has demanded a return of Gibraltar for centuries while the Rock's population in unison demands to stay British.
For Gibraltar's government, the fight over Parsley Island is a perfect reminder to world and British opinion that "Spain is speaking with two tongues" when it comes to decolonisation. The case of Ceuta, Melilla and the dozen islands off Morocco are an equal torn in the eye of Morocco as Gibraltar is for Spain.