Spain increases pressure in military face-off with Morocco

Monday, July 15, 2002

Spain has increased military pressure on Morocco to withdraw its troops from a disputed Mediterranean island.

The Spanish military has employed warships and fighter-jets to pressure Morocco to withdraw from the disputed island of Perejil, about 200 meters from the Moroccan coast. Spain was also reported to have sent three U.S.-made F-16 multi-role fighter jets to the island.

Witnesses said the F-16s flew over northern Morocco and broke the sound barrier over the Moroccan town of Boan on Sunday. They said reconnaissance planes were also seen over the North African kingdom.

Morocco has claimed the tiny island of Perejil, which it terms Leila. The status of the island has not been clarified for more than 20 years.

Officials said about a dozen Moroccan soldiers landed on the island on Thursday and raised two Moroccan flags. In response, Spain sent three naval vessels, a submarine and military helicopters to circle Perejil.

"There is a language here of symbols that we all understand," Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio said.

There were no reports of a Moroccan military buildup. The North African kingdom relies on aging U.S. and French aircraft and a tiny navy.

At the same time, Arab diplomatic sources reported intensified contacts between Madrid and Rabat to resolve the military standoff. The sources said they doubted that Spain would exploit its military superiority over its southern neighbor.

The EU has supported Spain's claim to the island. But the Europeans said they would not intervene.

The Arab League said it supports Morocco's claim to the disputed island.

Print this Article Print this Article Email this article Email this article Subscribe to this Feature Free Headline Alerts

Search Worldwide Web Search Search WorldTrib Archives