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Spain Ousts Moroccans From Island

July 17, 2002|From Times Wire Services

MADRID — Spain said today that it had removed by force the Moroccan troops who had set up an observation post last week on a disputed island off Morocco's Mediterranean coast.

Spain said in a statement that the operation to remove the Moroccans had been carried out without any injuries to either side. It said it had informed its allies of the move.

On Tuesday, Spain deployed a fifth warship to waters near the island, the Spanish defense minister said.

But Spanish and Moroccan officials said they both wanted a diplomatic solution to the standoff, and Madrid recalled its ambassador for consultations.

Spanish Defense Minister Federico Trillo told reporters that the frigate Castilla would arrive today in Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in North Africa four miles from the island, which is known as Isla del Perejil to Spaniards and Leila to Moroccans.

He said the Castilla would join four other warships patrolling waters off the North African coast.

A unit of Moroccan troops landed on the island Thursday, a deployment Morocco said was part of its effort to combat drug trafficking and illegal immigration.

Locals say a cave on the island is used as a drop-off point by drug runners, and both Spanish and Moroccan police have chased suspected criminals there.

On Tuesday, four Moroccan soldiers could be seen from the mainland collecting supplies from a dinghy that came from a Moroccan navy ship.

Two small Moroccan flags flew above the island.

Spanish claims over the tiny island date to the 17th century.

But there has been no Spanish presence there for the last 40 years, and Morocco says the land is part of its territory.

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