Morocco defies Spain over Perejil
MADRID, Spain -- Morocco has dismissed calls from both Spain and the European Union to withdraw an occupation force from a tiny disputed Mediterranean island.
In a statement on Monday, Morocco described the islet of Perejil as an "integral part" of its territory, despite Spain's claims to the contrary.
Morocco's Foreign Minister Mohamed Benaissa told a press conference that the team of 12 soldiers were sent to the island for a "simple surveillance operation in a sensitive zone" and would remain for "for the time being."
The island "has always been an integral part of Moroccan territory," Benaissa said.
He added that Morocco would provide the EU with evidence backing his country's claim to the island.
"Morocco is for a serene and calm dialogue to avoid the militarisation of the region," he said.
Earlier in the day, Spain said it would use all diplomatic means available to end Morocco's occupation of Perejil.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said he would not accept the occupation, which began last Thursday.
In the parliament's annual state of the nation speech, on Monday, Aznar said: "It is essential to return to the status quo before the occupation of the island.
"We will make all possible diplomatic efforts to restore the rule of international law. Spain will not accept a fait accompli."
The Moroccan soldiers have set up tents and raised the Moroccan flag over Perejil, which lies just 200 metres (yards) from the mainland.
In response, Spain has sent a four warships to the area to protect its neighbouring North African enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta.
Earlier, Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio said she hoped Benaissa would announce an end to the occupation within hours.
"I hope that Minister Benaissa will make a rectification," she told state radio. "I hope that Minister Benaissa will take note of what Spain is urging, with the support of the European Union. Morocco should behave like what it is, a friend and partner and member of the community of international law."
The EU has called "for Morocco to withdraw its troops immediately."
Spain's Deputy Interior Minister Pedro Morenes has said Spain would only resort to measures that conform to "what civilized countries try to do in this type of conflict."
The dispute dates back to the end of the colonial era, when France and Spain relinquished their North African possessions.
Under a 1956 treaty, Spain kept Ceuta and Melilla, which it had governed for centuries.
But Morocco strongly disputes Spanish control over several rocky islands along its Mediterranean coast.
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