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Spain, Morocco to re-open enclave land borders on Tuesday

Madrid and Rabat have agreed to re-open the land borders between Morocco and two Spanish enclaves on Tuesday, Spain’s interior minister said Thursday.

The move helps draw a line under a major diplomatic standoff on the back of coronavirus restrictions that together closed the crossings for two years.

Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said the two countries had agreed to open the land borders with Ceuta and Melilla gradually from May 17.

Crossings will be initially limited to residents of Europe’s passport-free Schengen area and their family members, and will then be expanded to cross-border workers after May 31, he told reporters in Madrid.

Ceuta and Melilla have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa.

The local economies on both sides of the borders depend on the crossing of people and goods.

The borders became the focus of a major dispute last year when Madrid allowed the leader of a Western Saharan independence movement to be treated for Covid-19 in a Spanish hospital.

Ten thousand migrants surged across the Moroccan border into Ceuta as local border forces looked the other way, in what was widely seen as a punitive gesture by Rabat.

In March, Spain moved to end the diplomatic crisis with Morocco by removing its decades-long stance of neutrality and backing the kingdom’s autonomy plan for the Western Sahara, which Rabat insists must remain under its sovereignty.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez visited King Mohammed VI in early April.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares had announced on Wednesday that the borders would reopen “in the coming days” without specifying a date.