Gibraltar calls for Royal Navy to stop Spanish 'incursions'

14th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Gibraltar said Thursday it had called on Britain to deploy Royal Navy ships to confront Spanish "incursions" into the waters of the disputed territory, amid already tense relations with Madrid.

Chief Minister Peter Caruana said he had written to British Foreign Secretary William Hague asking him "to take effective action to uphold Her Majesty's Sovereignty of British Gibraltar Territorial Waters.

"This should include the systematic deployment and intervention of the Royal Navy in support and protection of the (police) as they carry out their duties ... to enforce and uphold law and order and the laws of Gibraltar in our waters," he said in a televised speech.

Earlier Thursday, Caruana announced in a statement that Gibraltar had suspended the next two rounds of trilateral cooperation meetings scheduled for this month with Britain and Spain for "technical reasons".

He gave no further details.

But in his broadcast he said that "cooperation should not be thought by anyone to be a smokescreen behind which Spain can be allowed in practice to dismantle British sovereignty and with it, our jurisdiction in Gibraltar's territorial waters".

Since last year British and Spanish naval and police boats have engaged in a series of face-offs in the waters off Gibraltar, which lies at the strategic western entrance to the Mediterranean.

The most recent incident occurred last month when Gibraltar police said they were pursuing a suspect and Spanish officers used "physical aggression" to stop them.

Police quoted by Spanish media said the incident occurred in Spanish waters when a Spanish Civil Guard patrol boat was intercepted and "harassed" by Gibraltar police as it was pursuing a suspected drug trafficker.

"Over the last 18 months or so, Spanish direct action in our waters has passed from the historical, simple incursions ... to an incursion aggravated by interference with, and prevention of the exercise by the Royal Gibraltar Police of their powers and jurisdiction," Caruana said in the broadcast.

Spain has also been toughening its stance.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said last month that "there are no Gibraltar waters, there are only Spanish waters".

Britain claims a strip measuring three nautical miles (5.5 kilometres) surrounding Gibraltar as their territorial waters.

But Spain does not recognise any waters off Gibraltar as belonging to the territory, apart from its ports.

Gibraltar, which Spain ceded to Britain in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht, has long fuelled tensions between the two countries.

Madrid argues the 6.5-square-kilometre (2.6-square-mile) promontory that is home to around 30,000 people should be returned to Spanish sovereignty.

But its people overwhelmingly rejected an Anglo-Spanish proposal for co-sovereignty in a referendum in 2002.

The Trilateral Forum of Dialogue on Gibraltar was set up in 2004 to discuss issues related to the rocky outcrop.

The next sessions, on environmental and maritime issues as well as police cooperation, were scheduled to take place this week and next week in Spain but are now suspended.

© 2010 AFP

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