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Spain, Morocco Confirm Agreement Over Disputed Island - 2002-07-21

Thanks to U.S. mediation, Spain and Morocco reached an agreement on Saturday in their dispute over a tiny island off the north Moroccan coast. Spanish troops stationed on the island have withdrawn to the nearby Spanish enclave of Ceuta.

The Spanish government spokesman, Mariano Rajoy, has confirmed an agreement reached with Morocco over a disputed island more than 180 meters off the Moroccan shore known in Spanish as Perejil and in Arab as Leila.

In a brief communiqué, which expressly thanked U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell for his work in bringing about the accord, Mr. Rajoy said the foreign ministers of Spain and Morocco would meet in Rabat on Monday July 22.

Meanwhile, the Spanish Defense Ministry has confirmed that all 75 Spanish soldiers deployed on the islet since Wednesday have lowered the Spanish flag and withdrawn to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, just six kilometers down the coast. The withdrawal was confirmed in a brief statement issued by the Moroccan foreign ministry which said it had been brought about thanks to contacts between King Mohammed VI and the U.S. government.

Spanish diplomatic sources said that both sides had agreed not reveal the contents of the agreement until after the foreign ministers concluded their meeting on the matter.

The crisis between the two countries broke out on June 11, when the usually uninhabited more 13 hectares islet was occupied by six Moroccan gendarmes who were later replaced by Moroccan soldiers. The Moroccan government said they were sent to prevent illegal immigration and drug trafficking across the 40-kilometer strait of Gibraltar. Perejil is one of a number of islands off the Moroccan coast claimed by Spain besides its two enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

On Wednesday Spanish special forces occupied the island in a dawn raid and repatriated the Moroccan soldiers. Spain promised to withdraw its forces if Morocco agreed not to re-occupy it. On Friday, the Moroccan foreign minister pointed out that in the background of the crisis was the future of Melilla and Ceuta which Spain has occupied since the 15th and 16th centuries respectively.