Spain and Britain in military row over use of airspace

30th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

Spain has refused to allow British air force jets to use its airspace near Gibraltar for military exercises, a spokesman for British forces in the territory said Wednesday.

The decision comes amid increasing tensions between Spanish and British security forces in the waters off the disputed British possession on the tip of southern Spain.

The spokesman said six British Tornado F3 aircraft on Wednesday began a second day of training in Exercise Southern Flame, flying out of Gibraltar.

The southern half of the Alboran training zone in the western Mediterranean is controlled by Morocco and the northern half by Spain.

But while Rabat gave permission for the planes to use the Moroccan airspace Spain has denied them access to its sector.

"We originally applied to the Spanish, who control the airspace in the northern half of the Mediterranean training area and, simultaneously, to the Moroccans who control the southern half," the spokesman said.

"The Moroccans gave us authority to use the southern half on the dates in question whilst the Spanish refused our request."

But he said "the exercise has been very successful" while using only the Moroccan sector.

The six Tornado aircraft are from 111 Squadron based at RAF Leuchars in Scotland. They arrived in Gibraltar on Monday for what was billed as a two-week exercise.

In recent months British and Spanish naval and police boats have engaged in a series of cat and mouse games in the waters off Gibraltar, which lies at the strategic western entrance to the Mediterranean.

In one recent incident, a British Royal Navy patrol boat cautioned a Spanish police boat to leave British territorial waters. It then escorted the Spanish boat out of the waters claimed by Britain.

Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht but has retained a constitutional claim should Britain renounce sovereignty.

Gibraltar has long fuelled tensions between Spain and Britain, with Madrid arguing the 6.5-square-kilometre (2.6-square-mile) territory that is home to roughly 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.

© 2010 AFP

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