Spain awaits Morocco's response on disputed island


Spain said today it would press its claim for a disputed Mediterranean island in "a language everyone can understand", but refused to say what action it would take next against Morocco.

Defending the dispatch of warships to waters around Perejil islet off the Spanish enclave of Ceuta bordering Morocco, Spanish Foreign Minister Ana de Palacio said in an interview with El Mundothat the country "has done what it had to do."

On Thursday, Morocco deployed around a dozen troops to the uninhabited island - known as Perejil in Spain and Leila in Morocco - which is barely the size of a football field facing the Strait of Gibraltar.

Spain reacted the following day by sending three small patrol boats to the outcrop, and reinforced its military presence on islands it claims near Morocco.

Madrid has since sent three naval warships to Ceuta and its other enclave on Morocco's coast, Melilla, while four Spanish military helicopters continued patrolling the area.

But Palacio refused to say how long Madrid was prepared to give Morocco to pull its troops off the isle: "In this regard, I cannot give a timetable," she told El Mundo.

"Spain has done what it had to do. There is a language everyone can understand, such as the sending of patrol boats. We are saying 'We are there'. Nothing serious. We are calm, we are a democratic state and member of the European Union," she asserted.

Spain is still awaiting a Moroccan response to its demand for a troop withdrawal from the disputed island. But Morocco insisted that it keep control over the island.

Morocco claims that the troops on the isle were there "to better fight against people trafficking and terrorism", and yesterday urged Spain to "withdraw its troops from Morocco's territorial waters."