Moroccans eye Spanish enclave across tiny border

Penon de Velez de la Gomera, a peninsula within Spanish territory, off the coast of Morocco’s Al-Hoceima national park. (AFP)
Updated 16 July 2017
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Moroccans eye Spanish enclave across tiny border

BADES, Morocco: It is one of the shortest land borders in the world: A few dozen meters of plastic cord across a sandbank separate Morocco from the tiny Spanish enclave of Penon de Velez de la Gomera.
Wooden boats lie amid nets worn by seawater at the foot of the imposing mini-peninsula, home to a Spanish military base.
“Don’t approach the string!” a Moroccan soldier shouted from a pillbox, his helmet askew.
“They might shoot you with plastic bullets,” he said in a lower tone of voice, before retreating to the shade of his wooden shelter on a slope facing the Mediterranean.
Penon de Velez de la Gomera is one of seven Spanish enclaves on the northern coast of Morocco, which claims sovereignty over all of them.
The best known are Ceuta, which overlooks the strategically vital Strait of Gibraltar, and Melilla, further to the east.
But a string of islets remain under Spanish control, including several occupied by Spanish forces.
These tiny leftovers of Spain’s once vast empire have been a source of tension between Morocco and its former colonial occupier.
One of them, Perejil — known to Moroccans as Leila — was at the heart of an angry spat between the two countries 15 years ago this week.
A handful of Moroccan soldiers briefly took over the outcrop just 200 meters off the coast in 2002. The incident ended with a bloodless intervention by Spanish commandos.
But today, the topic of Madrid’s enclaves receives little attention. Local press reports say “things have changed,” and the two are now close partners.
“Here we don’t have any real problem with the Spaniards, even though it’s as if our village is occupied,” said Hamed Aharouch, 27.
Aharouch sat on a plastic chair outside his fisherman’s hut in the hamlet of Bades, a stone’s throw from the Spanish base.
Perched at the end of a dusty track criss-crossing the mountains of Al-Hoceima national park, Bades seems to lie at the end of the world.
The Spanish peninsula, 87 meters at its highest point, dominates the bay, an enchanting cove of blue waters hemmed in by rocky slopes.
Spain’s gold and red flag flies above the fortress which its forces have held since the 16th century.
Military helicopters fly in to a landing pad part way down the slope, and below it, a guard peered from an observation post.


Libya recovers five bodies, picks up 185 migrants

A total of 900 migrants have been intercepted or rescued by the Libyan navy since Wednesday. (AFP/File)
Updated 23 June 2018
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Libya recovers five bodies, picks up 185 migrants

  • The bodies were recovered from an inflatable boat packed with migrants that got into trouble
  • Two coast guard patrols carried out different operations on Friday, picking up 91 migrants in one group and 94 in the second

Tripoli: Libyan coast guards have recovered the bodies of five migrants and picked up 185 survivors off its western coast, a spokesman said on Saturday.

The migrants, who were rescued about 24 km off the town of Qarabulli, were trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe in two boats, the Libyan navy said Saturday. Those who lost their lives were from Sudan, Nigeria, Chad and Egypt.

The bodies were recovered from an inflatable boat packed with migrants that got into trouble, the coast guard spokesman Ayoub Qassem told Reuters.

A day earlier, three children and nine women were among 94 migrants rescued on Friday when their inflatable dinghy sank 12 nautical miles from Garabulli, east of the capital Tripoli.

“The migrants are from different sub-Saharan countries including three children and nine women,” he said.

Two coast guard patrols carried out different operations on Friday, picking up 91 migrants in one group and 94 in the second, Qassem said.

A total of 900 migrants have been intercepted or rescued by the Libyan navy since Wednesday as departures pick up due to favorable weather.

Usually in such cases the migrants are taken to detention centers pending repatriation.

Libya’s western coast is the main departure point for migrants fleeing wars and poverty and trying to reach Europe, although the number of crossings has sharply dropped since last July due to a more active coast guard presence with support from the EU.

Libya descended into chaos following the NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, with many armed groups and two administrations vying for power.

Most migrants try to head across the Mediterranean toward Italy, hoping they will be picked up by ships run by aid groups and taken there, although many drown before they are rescued.

Earlier this month, Italy’s anti-immigrant interior minister, Matteo Salvini, vowed to no longer let charity ships offload rescued migrants in Italy, leaving one ship stranded at sea for several days with more than 600 migrants until Spain offered them safe haven.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will try on Sunday to persuade other EU leaders to agree on a common policy on migrants, although her chances of winning support from all 28 member states are deemed slim.