Madrid 'apologises' over Gibraltar incident
Madrid acknowledges the Spanish officers made a mistake by chasing their suspects into Gibraltar.
Madrid – Madrid said on Tuesday it has apologised to Gibraltar after Spanish police pursued two suspected smugglers into the contested British territory at Spain's southern tip.
Four members of Spain's Civil Guard police force were detained late Monday by Gibraltarian police after they landed near the territory's port along with the suspects, who are Spanish nationals, Gibraltar police said.
Gibraltar authorities said they held the officers for two hours and retained their firearms, freeing them only after Spain's Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba telephoned Gibraltar's chief minister, Peter Caruana.
Questioned over the incident, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told reporters in Brussels that Madrid had acknowledged the officers made a mistake by chasing their suspects into Gibraltar.
"Interior Minister Rubalcaba has already apologised," he said. "It was something done in the heat of the moment and I hope it will not be repeated."
Moratinos said the four officers had been freed and had returned to Spain.
Police in Gibraltar said they have charged the two suspected smugglers with illegally importing a motor launch with no registration number.
The launch ran aground on rocks in Gibraltar harbour after being pursued by the Civil Guard vessel.
Spanish media have reported that confrontations between the Royal Navy and Spain's Civil Guard have been on the rise for several months in the waters around Gibraltar.
In November, Britain apologised to Spain after a Royal Navy ship shot at a buoy bearing the colours of the Spanish flag during a military exercise just off the Gibraltar coast.
Spain does not recognise any waters off Gibraltar as belonging to the British territory, apart from the territory's ports.
Madrid points to the wording of the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht -- under which Gibraltar was given up -- which says the "rock" was ceded to England for ever.
But London claims sovereignty over a strip of water measuring three nautical miles surrounding the territory, as it does with any other territory.
Gibraltar has long fuelled tensions between Spain and Britain, with Madrid arguing it should be returned to Spanish sovereignty.
London has said it will not renounce sovereignty of the territory against the wishes of Gibraltarians.
AFP / Expatica