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Spain, Morocco in Spat Over Ceuta and Melilla

In a new episode of a long-standing dispute, Spain lodged a formal complaint this week against Morocco after the latter referred to Ceuta and Melilla as “Moroccan cities.”

Prominent Spanish news outlets including Efe and El Pais reported that Spain’s foreign affairs ministry said it “categorically rejects” any Moroccan claims to the North African cities.

“Spain’s borders, including Ceuta and Mellia, are internationally-recognised,” Spanish diplomats told Moroccan authorities.

The spat comes weeks after Morocco protested over European Commission official Margaritis Schinas referring to Ceuta and Melilla as Spanish cities with EU borders.

In a document sent to the EU, Rabat described his declarations as “hostile” and laid claim to the two cities.

Madrid responded with a letter to the Moroccan government categorically rejecting the language used to refer to these two Spanish cities and recalling that their borders are internationally-recognised.

Ceuta and Melilla, located on the north coast of Morocco, are the only European Union (EU) land borders on the African continent and susceptible points at the migratory level.

The renewed discord over territorial sovereignty arises just months after Spain and Morocco inked a series of agreements intended to “consolidate a new era of mutual trust and genuine cooperation,” in the words of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Outside of the agreements, Sanchez said the two nations vowed to avoid policies or discourse that will “offend the other party, especially when it comes to our respective spheres of sovereignty.”

With that, Sanchez was alluding to Morocco’s claims on Western Sahara, as well as Ceuta and Melilla, which are internationally-recognised as Spanish but are surrounded by Moroccan territory.

Relations between Madrid and Rabat reached a boiling point in 2021, after Spain provided covert COVID-19 treatment to the leader of the separatist Polisario Front, which seeks control over Western Sahara, a territory over which Morocco has had control, since 1975 after Spanish colonial rule ended.

In the wake of this revelation, Moroccan authorities stood by as thousands of migrants swam from Morocco to Ceuta.

To appease Morocco, Madrid undid 50 years of formal Spanish neutrality on the issue of Western Sahara independence.

That is when Sanchez, in a letter to King Mohammed VI, described the Moroccan proposal for Western Sahara autonomy as “the most serious, credible and realistic basis” for resolving the conflict.

Yet, despite these attempts to mend bilateral ties, tensions around the sovereignty of Ceuta and Melilla remain.

Source: The Arab Weekly