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Moroccan frustration with Spain flares into row

Source: Reuters - Wed 11th Aug 2010

Tensions between Morocco and Spain over immigration and disputed territories have flared into a row, straining ties that are crucial to European efforts to tackle terrorism and illegal migrants.

Since mid-July, Morocco's government has issued five statements attacking what it says was the abuse of Moroccans in a Spanish enclave and accusing Madrid of abandoning African migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.

Both issues have long been sore points, but the tone of the exchanges has reached a new intensity.

The latest Moroccan statement accuses Spanish police of racism and says Rabat was astonished Madrid had not responded to its complaints.

"When all this happens between two neighbouring states linked by a friendship treaty, that means the situation is approaching the level of a new crisis," said Taoufik Bouachrine, editor of Moroccan Arabic-language newspaper Akhbar al Youm.

Official sources and analysts said the reason for Morocco's anger could be frustration at a series of perceived slights by Spain over other issues and a feeling Madrid is not showing sufficient respect for Morocco's point of view.

A previous low in relations came in 2002 in a dispute over the Mediterranean island of Perejil which both Spain and Morocco claim as their territory.

Since then, relations have warmed, with Spain and other European states praising Rabat for fighting Islamist militants, cracking down on cannabis smuggling and stepping up surveillance to sharply cut illegal migrant arrivals to Spain.


Two incidents appeared to have triggered Morocco's anger.

The first was an allegation that 17 Moroccans had been beaten over a three-week period by Spanish police in the territory of Melilla - one of two Spanish enclaves surrounded by Moroccan territory that Rabat claims as its own.

The second came when Morocco alleged that Spanish police had abandoned eight sick sub-Saharan migrants off the Moroccan coast after intercepting them trying to enter Spain.

"The Kingdom of Morocco is astonished that no official answer was offered by Spanish authorities until now over the cases of racist drift by the Spanish police" said the Foreign Ministry in a statement on Monday.

Morocco's rhetoric left many observers bemused as these types of allegation had not previously provoked such an angry response.

"No one in Madrid understands the real cause of the latest crisis" said Ignacio Cembrero, a journalist at Spain's El Pais newspaper and a specialist on Morocco-Spanish relations.

Moroccan officials said privately that Rabat was upset about what they said was Spain's expansion of spying activity in the north of the country and a lack of enthusiasm from Madrid towards Morocco's newly-appointed ambassador to Spain.

They also cited the flying of Spanish military helicopters over northern coastal areas during visits there in June and July by Morocco's King Mohammed.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on Tuesday promised "clarification, dialogue and information" about the actions of Spain's police, Spanish news agency EFE reported.

But Mohamed Larbi Mesaari, a former Moroccan minister widely regarded as a specialist on relations between Morocco and Spain, said Madrid had been too slow to respond.

"The latest statements (by Rabat) reflected frustration by Morocco as Madrid did not answer its statements" he said.

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