Spanish forces evict Moroccan soldiers from disputed island; Rabat protests
Morocco demanded the immediate withdrawal of Spanish forces from a tiny, disputed Mediterranean island, saying Wednesday that it was an "integral part" of Moroccan territory.
"The kingdom of Morocco protests with force against this unjustified aggression, at the moment when Morocco and Spain were trying to resolve this crisis by diplomatic means," said a statement issued by the official news agency MAP.
"The Moroccan government urges the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Spanish forces," the statement read. "The island is an integral part of Moroccan territory."
Earlier, Spanish forces evicted a unit of Moroccan soldiers from the island. No one was hurt, the Spanish prime minister's office said.
This move came as a surprise, since Spanish government officials had repeatedly said that they wanted a diplomatic solution to the problem.
On Tuesday, Spain deployed another warship to waters near the island, but both the Spanish and Moroccan foreign ministers said they were pursuing diplomatic avenues, AP reported.
Spanish Defense Minister Federico Trillo had told reporters the frigate Castilla would arrive Wednesday in Ceuta, a Spanish North African enclave 4.5 kilometers from the island, known as Isla Perejil to Spaniards and Leila to Moroccans.
He said the Castilla would join another four warships off the North African coast.
Morocco has said it aims to set up a surveillance post to fighting terrorism and illegal immigrant trafficking in the area.
On Tuesday, four Moroccan soldiers were seen from the mainland collecting supplies from a dinghy that came from a Moroccan navy ship. Two small Moroccan flags flew above the island.
Spain withdraws ambassador to Morocco
The Spanish government has recalled its ambassador from Morocco for consultations with immediate effect, Spanish officials said late Tuesday.
A foreign ministry statement said the ambassador, Fernando Arias Salgado, had been recalled because Madrid "had not received a satisfactory answer" to a letter sent on July 11 in a diplomatic spat over a tiny Mediterranean island.
© 2002 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)