Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Morocco Increases Pressure on Spain over Disputed Enclave

Here is an feature article from Reuters Africa about Morocco becoming more aggressive in its call for Spain to end its colonization of Melilla.

FEATURE-Morocco ups pressure on Spain over disputed enclave
Wed Nov 3, 2010 2:00pm GMT

* Morocco says centuries-old Spanish rule should end
* Protests,angry rhetoric show growing assertiveness
* Local Moroccans say Spanish presence is their livelihood

By Lamine Ghanmi

BENI ANSAR, Morocco, Nov 3 (Reuters) - When Spanish police with snarling dogs raided the market where she sells aluminium pots and pans, Najia Berbish, a Moroccan mother of five, hurriedly packed up her wares.

"Piety has deserted the hearts of these Christians," she spat while gesticulating towards the police officers who were shouting out orders in Spanish at traders rushing to get away.

About an hour later, the police are gone and business is resuming at the illegal flea market in Melilla, a tiny Spanish enclave on the North African coast that adjoins Moroccan territory.

The drama and disruption of the police raid is something Berbish has learned to live with because she has no choice. "We are earning a decent living with the Spaniards. Does Morocco gives us something better now?" she asked.

This is the ebb and flow of daily life in Melilla, a spot where Europe and Africa, the rich world and the poor, rub up against each other in a way that is vibrant and chaotic and, increasingly, a source of diplomatic friction.
France and Spain used to rule Morocco through colonial protectorates. These ended over 50 years ago but Spain has retained Melilla and a second enclave called Ceuta. Morocco argues they should be under its sovereignty.

Tension flared this year when Morocco angrily accused Spanish police of using violence against Moroccan traders passing through Melilla.

It was their worst row since 2002, when Spain and Morocco had a brief and bloodless military confrontation over a tiny disputed island known to Spaniards as Perejil, or Parsley.

Since then the repaired relationship between Madrid and Rabat has become crucial for the rest of the Europe in stemming the flow of illegal immigrants and containing Islamist militants -- all of which could be jeopardised by a renewed dispute.

But more than that, this year's row appeared to signal a new resolve from Morocco's leaders to, eventually at least, end Spanish sovereignty over the territories.


Morocco's growing confidence plays a role.

Since the reformist king Mohamed VI came to the throne in 1999, gross domestic product has gone up from about $35 billion to $145 billion now, multinational firms have made Morocco their regional base and a trade pact has been signed with Europe.
"Spain controls Morocco's Mediterranean front through its control of Ceuta and Melilla and other isles. This is not acceptable any more," said Mohamed Merabet, head of the Ashourouk Center, a Moroccan think tank.

Spain's argument is that Melilla and Ceuta are not colonial possessions because they were Spanish settlements many centuries before Morocco existed. In any case, Madrid says the row over Melilla has now been smoothed over.

"Relations between the countries are at a good level," then Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told reporters during a visit to the Moroccan city of Marrakesh in October, shortly before he was removed from the post.

Policymakers in Madrid know too that the Spanish presence is an economic lifeline for a poor part of Morocco that the government in Rabat cannot yet afford to cut. That is because Melilla functions like a vast duty free warehouse.

Every day about 30,000 Moroccans file through the nearby Moroccan settlement of Beni Ansar to border checkpoints and into the enclave. Once there, they buy as much as they can carry -- usually clothes, shoes, toilet paper, cleaning products -- and file back out of Melilla.

They then sell the goods at markets and pavement stalls throughout Morocco. It is a profitable business because, with no tax or customs duty to pay, goods in Melilla cost about half the price charged in Morocco.

Spanish customs officers patrolling the border generally let Moroccans through with their goods as long as they are not moving industrial quantities, which is why most of the packages are piled high on bicycles or carried on peoples' backs.

The income from trading with Melilla is badly needed. Gross domestic product per capita in Spain is $33,600. That compares to Morocco, where the figure is $4,700.

The streets of central Melilla look like they could have been transplanted from Madrid or Barcelona. In the Moroccan villages nearby, many people live in hovels built of mud.

"I thank Allah each day for earning some 300 dirhams," said Ahmed Salmouni, who was carrying clothes and other goods out of Melilla on his bicycle. The amount he takes home each day is the equivalent of about $37.

"I prefer that the Spaniards stay. Our conditions with the Nsara are better than they are with Morocco," he said, using an Arabic word for Christians.

But while traders queue daily to get through the barbed wire border fence and into Melilla, a short distance away other Moroccans are pursuing a different agenda.

One day last month in the no-man's land between the enclave and Beni Ansar about 200 anti-Spanish protesters waved Moroccan flags and chanted: "Melilla is Moroccan."

The demonstration, to mark the 513th anniversary of Spanish rule, was just one of a series of protests in the past few months outside Melilla which reveal the growing assertiveness of those in Morocco who want Spain to leave.

Though Moroccan officials, in public at least, keep a distance, it is clear where the government's sympathies lie.

"We can mobilise hundreds of thousands of demonstrators for this anniversary," a senior Moroccan police officer, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters at the demonstration.
"But the protest was small because we do not want to frighten the Spaniards at this stage," he said.

Back in Morocco's capital, those politicians who back the protests also acknowledge the need to give people living around Melilla a better livelihood.

They point to a government plan to invest $17 billion over the next 12 years in the development of Morocco's north, including the areas around Melilla and Ceuta.

Chebel Malainine, a senior official from Prime Minister Abass el Fassi's Istiqlal party, said this kind of development is the beginning of the end for Spanish rule.

"Morocco has begun ... to prepare the conditions for freeing the territories," he said. (Editing by Giles Elgood)

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