Spain seeks better ties with Morocco

Spanish PM Jose Maria Aznar has arrived in Morocco for a two-day visit to strengthen ties strained over long-running territorial disputes.

    Perejil, or Laila: the tiny uninhabited island that strained diplomatic relations

    Accompanied by seven ministers, Aznar arrived in Marrakash on Monday to meet with his Moroccan counterpart Driss Jettou. He is likely to hold talks with King Muhammad VI on Tuesday.

    "I am a friend of Morocco, I have sincerely worked toward that end and I am hoping for stronger ties between both countries," Aznar told the national news agency MAP in an interview ahead of the visit.

    He played down the land disputes saying: "Neighbours sometimes fight but they must always be ready to rise above that."

    Economic sweetner

    During his brief visit, Aznar is set to sign three economic accords covering loans, labour and cultural cooperation.

    Spain is Morocco's second largest economic partner after France, with 800 Spanish companies operating in the kingdom.

    Aznar's visit to Morocco follows a June meeting with Jettou, in southern Spain - the first of high-level talks since a tiny uninhabited island sparked a renewed border controversy.

    Border disputes

    "Neighbours sometimes fight but they must always be ready to rise above that"

    Jose Maria Aznar,
    Spanish prime minister

    But the disputes over Spain's enclaves on Morocco's northern coast, immigration and the exploitation of offshore oil rigs between Morocco and Spain's Canary Islands are likely to loom large.

    Tensions strained dramatically when Moroccan soldiers occupied island of Laila, known as Perejil in Spain, and were later removed by the Spanish army.

    The island affair brought back attention to the ongoing rivalry over contested enclaves, namely the two that Spain possesses on the Moroccan mainland coast.

    Ceuta or Sabta?

    Both enclaves were seized from Morocco in the fifteenth century.

    When Morocco gained independence in 1957, Spain continued to hold on to Ceuta and Melilla (known in Morocco as Sabta and Malila). Rabat claims both cities as its own.

    With a combined area of 31 sq km and 130,000 inhabitants, the enclaves have Catholic and Muslim communities.

    Both cities are also separated by a small, fortified neutral zone from the Kingdom of Morocco.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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