Ceuta and Melilla revive Spanish-Moroccan dispute

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Considered as “fragments of Europe on north Africa’s Mediterranean coast”,
are the cities of Ceuta and Melilla Spanish or Moroccan? Madrid and Rabat have revived a 50 year-old controversy as each claims sovereignty over the two strategic locations in North Africa.

Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega won’t budge. Interviewed Tuesday on National Radio (RNE), Vice-President of the Iberian government reasserted the “Spanish nature” of the two enclaves situated north of Morocco, in response to a call from Morocco on the reopening of dialogue on the subject.

Monday, Abbas El Fassi, Moroccan Prime Minister called on Spain to reopen “dialogue” in order to “end the occupation” of Ceuta and Melilla. The minister also asked Madrid to commit itself to a “futuristic vision” for the “common interest” and “good neighborliness” between the two countries.

No such luck for Morocco. The response from the Spanish authorities, wednesday, about their position on the issue was clear. Spain does not wish to revisit the status of the two cities. And “Morocco knows this position,” reiterated the Vice-President.

“Occupied Melilla”

The heated exchanges between Rabat and Madrid come a week after a poster with the words “occupied Melilla” was affixed to an office building on the border with the Spanish enclave. Hence, a piece of A4 paper has become the cause of unrest, in recent days, between the two countries.

The incident apparently triggered the ire of the Spanish government, according to diplomatic sources, who immediately alerted the Moroccan ambassador in Madrid, Farid Auluhaj. The latter undertook to remove the poster.

A diplomatic row was triggered in 2007 following the visit of King Juan Carlos to Ceuta and Melilla. A first, since his accession to the throne in 1975. The office of the Moroccan Socialist Party had denounced “a provocative visit that undermines national sovereignty, and a continuation of colonialism.”

Spain has exercised sovereignty over Melilla since 1496 and Ceuta since 1580. Originally designed as outposts after the reconquest of Andalusia from the Arabs by the Catholic Kings, the two enclaves have been claimed by Morocco since its independence in 1956.

Coveted for their geopolitical advantages, Ceuta and Melilla, are now regarded as autonomous cities, and have for many years been a bone of contention between Rabat and Madrid.

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