Perejil Island crisis
Perejil Island (Isla Perejil in Spanish and Leila Laila in Arabic) is a small rocky island about the size of 15 football fields between Spain and Morocco, lying 250 metres (270 yd) from Morocco, and 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) from the Spanish city of Ceuta, which borders Morocco, and 13.5 kilometres (8.4 mi) from mainland Spain. The island itself is unpopulated, only seldom visited by Moroccan shepherds.
Tensions rose on July 11, 2002, when a dozen Moroccan soldiers landed on the island, equipped with light arms, a radio, and several tents. The soldiers raised their nation's flag and set up camp. A patrol boat of the Spanish Civil Guard, which is in charge of coast guard service in Spain, approached the island from Ceuta during its routinary check, when the crew spotted the Moroccan flag flying. The officers decided to disembark to investigate the issue. When they landed on the island, they were confronted by the Moroccan soldiers, who forced them back into their boat at gunpoint after a bitter argument.
Morocco claimed that the occupation was carried out in order to monitor illegal immigration, and to fight drug dealers and smugglers who use the island as a logistic platform. Following protests and calls to the return of the status quo ante bellum from the Spanish government, the soldiers were called off, but were replaced by Moroccan naval cadets, who set up a fixed base on the island, which drew further protests from Spain. Prime minister José María Aznar warned Morocco that Spain will not accept a policy of fait accompli.
On the morning of July 18, 2002, conflict broke out when Spain retook the island by force, code-named Operation Romeo-Sierra. The attack was carried out by Spanish commandos of Grupo de Operaciones Especiales. The commandos landed from four Eurocopter Cougar helicopters that took off from Cádiz. The entire operation was coordinated by the Spanish Navy from the amphibious ship Castilla, on station at the strait of Gibraltar. The Spanish Air Force deployed F-18 and Mirage F-1 fighters to provide air cover. The Spanish patrol boats Izaro and Laya came alongside the gunboat El Lahiq, at anchor off the island, in order to prevent any reaction from the Moroccan vessel. The Moroccan Auxiliary Forces members inland did not offer any resistance. Within a matter of hours, all of the Moroccan servicemen were taken prisoner, and the island was secured. The prisoners were transported by helicopter to the headquarters of Civil Guard in Ceuta, from where they were transported to the Moroccan border. Over the course of the same day, the Spanish commandos on the island were replaced by soldiers of the Spanish Legion.
The Spanish Legion troops on the island remained there after the operation was complete. The United States mediated the situation, that eventually returned to the status quo ante bellum. All Spanish troops were withdrawn, and the island remains unoccupied but claimed by both sides. BBC News interviewed Spanish citizens across Madrid after the conflict, and most people supported this incursion. Opposition politician Gaspar Llamazares of the United Left party (former Communist Party) said that Spain should not fall into the provocation trap, so that it does not ruin its image in North Africa.
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