Spain gets caught between 'the Rock' and Morocco

Spain, which has insisted that Britain hand over the colony of Gibraltar, is itself wearing very similar colonial shoes. The cause of this uncomfortable dilemma is a pair of small Gibraltar-like enclaves held by Spain but located on the coastline of Morocco: Ceuta and Melilla.

Foreign Minister Fernando Moran Lopez finds himself in the awkward position of having to simultaneously deploy anticolonialist arguments against Britain and pro-colonialist arguments against Morocco.

The Spanish foreign minister is due to visit London Wednesday and Thursday to discuss Spanish claims for return of ''the Rock,'' as Gibraltar is often called. At the same time, his staff is busily fattening up diplomatic dossiers to justify retaining Spanish sovereignty over Ceuta and Melilla in the face of mounting Moroccan claims of rightful ownership.

''Ceuta and Melilla have always been part of Moroccan sovereignty,'' declares Moroccan Foreign Minister M'Hamed Boucetta, ''and they continue to be so.''

So intense have the Moroccan claims become that the Spanish military has felt obliged to assert its readiness to defend Spanish sovereignty by force, if necessary.

On Feb. 10, the Union of Arab Parliamentarians in Rabat passed a resolution, proposed by Morocco, for immediate negotiations between Spain and Morocco about returning the Spanish colonies. The Arab resolution provoked a flood of patriotic Spanish declarations reminiscent of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's defense of the Falklands.

Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez immediately stated, ''We are in condition to defend Ceuta and Melilla, which are, without a doubt, Spanish cities.'' He did concede, however, that ''we should remain calm and comprehend that others may say something different.''

During the Franco regime, the British press traditionally attributed any flare-up of Spanish claims on Gibraltar to ''internal problems.'' Similarly, the Spanish press attributes Morocco's recent campaign for negotiations as ''a patriotic strategy to detract attention from internal problems and a recently frustrated coup plot'' in Morocco.

Now, when the tables could be turned, the Spanish press speaks of the danger of Morocco launching a surprise ''Galtieri style'' attack. (It was Argentine Gen. Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri who ordered the sudden invasion of the Falkland Islands on April 2, 1982.) The press also echoes British claims of readiness to defend Gibraltar when, at the height of the Falklands war, rumors circulated in Spain that some generals then favored invading the Rock.

Now the Spanish military, foreseeing a possible attack on Ceuta and Melilla, have been startled into bellicose declarations of defense.

''The Spanish armed forces are prepared to defend what we have to defend and are prepared to face any aggression,'' stated Gen. Manuel Saavedra Palmeyro.

Morocco's foreign minister protested Spain's alleged ''operation ballesta'' - a secret defense plan that the Spanish joint chiefs of staff had supposedly prepared. ''Morocco,'' Boucetta said in an interview in a Spanish magazine, ''will also prepare its military procedures.''

Using the same arguments that Spain sprang on Britain, Boucetta added, ''Spain will have to rid itself of certain ideas belonging to the 18th and 19th century. Today, one cannot continue to speak of sovereignty beyond the borders of one's country, no matter what the colonial form may be.''

Socialist politicians and government-controlled radio and television commentators never miss an opportunity to insist on Spanish sovereignty of the enclaves. Some Spanish journalists privately attribute part of the Socialists' peace with Spain's armed forces to such a strong nationalistic stand on Ceuta and Melilla.

The Moroccan press, meanwhile, has pointed out contradictions in Spain's attitude.

''We don't understand how a government can consider as legitimate its [claim] of Gibraltar and deny this [same] right to Morocco to establish a similar demand over Ceuta and Melilla,'' affirmed an editorial in the Moroccan daily L'Opinion.

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