Britain rejects Gibraltar call for more navy support

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Britain declined to take further action Saturday after a letter from Gibraltar calling for the Royal Navy to deploy ships to confront Spanish "incursions" into the waters of the disputed territory.

Gibraltar's Chief Minister Peter Caruana said Thursday 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."

He wanted this to include "the systematic deployment and intervention of the Royal Navy in support and protection" of police.

But while acknowledging receipt of the letter, a spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "The Royal Navy is already present and their role is well-defined already."

Since last year, British and Spanish naval and police boats have been involved in a series of face-offs in the waters off Gibraltar, around which Britain claims a strip of water measuring three nautical miles (5.5 kilometres).

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

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 caused tensions between the two countries.

Madrid says it should be returned to Spanish sovereignty, but its residents overwhelmingly rejected an Anglo-Spanish proposal for co-sovereignty in a referendum in 2002.

© 2010 AFP

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