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Spanish navy to defend enclaves

Moroccan troops on the 'invaded' island
Moroccan troops on the 'invaded' island  

MADRID, Spain -- Three navy ships have been sent to protect two Spanish enclaves after Morocco occupied an uninhabited Spanish islet.

Twelve soldiers landed on the half-mile diameter Perejil island, just off the Moroccan coast on Thursday, in what was described as an "act of hostility" by Spain.

The navy ships have been deployed to protect Ceuta and Melilla -- two Spanish city enclaves along Morocco's northern coast.

Perejil has been controlled by Spain since the 17th century but Morocco insists it inherited the island when it gained independence in 1956.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has been in permanent contact with his Defence Minister Federico Trillo, his deputy Mariano Rajoy, and Foreign Minister Ana Palacio since the Morrocan flag was planted on Perejil, a government spokesman said.

Morocco's Prime Minister Abderrahmane Youssoufi told reporters on Saturday he was committed "to avoid making the conflict more dramatic."

Spain believes Morocco is using Perejil to highlight other differences before the two countries separated at some points by just a few miles of sea.

Those problems include fishing rights, illegal immigration and the Western Sahara, which was annexed by Morocco from Spain in the 1970s and where the United Nations has ruled a self-determination referendum should be held.

Morocco has also frequently called on Spain to turn over control the two city enclave, which Spain maintains were Spanish for centuries before Morocco existed as a country.

Deputy Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy has warned the Moroccan government in Rabat to consider that Morocco is the biggest recipient of Spanish foreign aid and was a major trading partner.




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