(Adds details and background)
By Angus Berwick
MADRID, April 4 Spain's foreign ministry denied
a Spanish naval vessel had made an illegal incursion into hotly
disputed waters off the British enclave of Gibraltar on Tuesday.
The government of Gibraltar, a peninsula on the southern tip
of Spain, said earlier that a Spanish patrol ship had entered
its territorial waters without permission.
Disputes between Gibraltar and Spain over the waters are
frequent but the latest comes days after the territory of some
33,000 people took centre stage in the wrangling over Britain's
exit from the European Union, which was triggered on March 29.
An EU draft position published last Friday after Prime
Minister Theresa May filed formal divorce papers said the
application of any EU-UK trade deal to Gibraltar had to be
agreed between Britain and Spain, which has long claimed
sovereignty over the enclave.
In response, May issued a statement saying London was
"steadfast" in its commitment to the territory. Her spokesman
however played down comments by a former leader of her
Conservative Party that she would be prepared to go to war to
On Tuesday, Gibraltar's government published a video on
Twitter of the Spanish Navy patrol ship Infanta Cristina in the
sea off the territory and accused it of carrying out an "illegal
incursion" into its territorial waters.
A spokesman for Spain's foreign ministry said Spain did not
recognize the waters as belonging to Gibraltar and the ship had
been on a routine patrol.
"An illegal incursion, no, because for us it is the
utilisation of our waters," the spokesman said on the phone.
"Spain does not recognize other rights and situations
belonging to Great Britain in the maritime spaces that are not
included in Article 10 of the Treaty of Utrecht," he said.
Gibraltar was captured by Britain in 1704 and ceded to Spain
in 1713 under the treaty.
In a 2002 referendum, Gibraltarians rejected by 98 percent a
proposal for joint British-Spanish sovereignty.
(Editing by Julien Toyer and Andrew Roche)