Eight months after the election of Mariano Rajoy as new Prime Minister of Spain, the relations between Morocco and its northern neighbor might be heading towards their first serious friction over territorial issues.
Sadd Edine Othmani, Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, on Wednesday summoned the Spanish Ambassador to Rabat to express his disapproval of the decision made by Madrid to send a detachment of the Guardia Civil to the three Jaafariya islands located 50 kilometers east of Melilla, which Spain claims as being under its sovereignty.
These three islands, although of minor importance, have always been on the contentious agenda of the relations between both countries. While Spain considers that they are under its territorial integrity since 1848, Morocco has never recognized this fact. In addition, in no international treaty, there is a mention that these islands belong to Spain. More often than not Madrid and Rabat abstained from making any unilateral decision regarding their respective claim of sovereignty over these islands, in order avoid the outbreak of frictions between both governments.
“We have expressed our disapproval of the adoption of a unilateral initiative by Spain, ” said Youssef Amrani, the Minister Delegate for Foreign Affairs, via telephone interview with the Spanish daily El País.
The Spanish government argues that this decision is grounded on its will to fight illegal immigration and drug trafficking.
For over 10 years, big numbers of Sub-Saharan Africans have been using Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla as passage towards Spain. Morocco has exerted great efforts in preventing those would-be immigrants from reaching Melilla.
On Monday morning, 300 sub-Saharan Africans tried to force their way towards Melilla. Only five of them succeeded in reaching the enclave. A Moroccan soldier perished while he was trying to repel the assault.
What raises doubts about the intentions of the Spanish government is that this decision is made on the 10th anniversary of the crisis of the Islands of Leila (Perejil). In 2002, this tiny island made headlines all over the world, when the Spanish government decided to send a war ship to dislodge 17 Moroccan soldiers who landed in this island located 300 meters away from the Moroccan coast and planted the Moroccan flag.
Like the Jaafariya Islands, Leila island is a bone of contention between Morocco and Spain, as both countries claim their sovereignty over this rocky territory.
What raises more doubt about the motives behind this decision is that the Spanish Minister of Interior, Jorge Fernández Díaz, made a statement to the press that has been considered provocative and unfriendly by Morocco’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Before the start of his trip to the enclave of Melilla, he expressed his admiration for Spanish soldiers who fought against the Moroccans during the Rif war between 1921 and 1926, especially during the Annoual battle.
“We have summoned the Ambassador of Spain to express to him the discomfort of Morocco, our great disapproval of the Spanish minister’s recent pronouncements about the Battle of Annual and we asked him to give us explanations about the Civil Guard contingent that will be sent to the Jaafariya islands,” a source close to the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs was quoted saying in the daily newspaper Attajdid.
After the crushing defeat of the Spanish army against the Rifains resistant under the leadership of Moroccan legend Mohammed Ben Abdelkrim el Khattabi, Spain made an unprecedented retaliatory decision in order to stifle the revolution in the Rif region.
In 1923, under the instruction of King Alfono XIII, grand-father of Juan Carlos, current king of Spain, the Spanish army used toxic gas against the population of the Rif, a step that was in flagrant violation of the treaty of Versailles of 1919, which prohibited the use of toxic gas, and which Spain had signed.
According to many scholars, such as Spain’s María Rosa de Madariaga and British Scholar Sebastian Balfour, the Rif region, which was subjected to this toxic gas has the highest rate of people suffering from cancer. The same authors add that this gas is believed to be the main cause of this high rate of cancer in the region.
Up until now, despite countless calls from Moroccan and foreign organizations urging the Spanish government to express its mea culpa over the use of this toxic gas against civilian population, Spain has still not expressed any regret or apology to the Moroccan people over its killing of thousands of Moroccans during the Rif war and throughout its protectorate over northern Morocco.
Could it be the financial crisis that lead Spain to this ?
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