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British troops 'invade' Spain

GIBRALTAR -- British troops temporarily invaded Spain when a landing exercise on Gibraltar went wrong.

About 20 Royal Marines landed in bad weather on a Spanish beach, thinking they were on British territory.

They hastily retreated after locals told them of their error. Gibraltar has been a contested area between London and Madrid for 300 years.

The two European Union and NATO allies -- once the greatest of foes -- are negotiating a deal to resolve their tussle over Gibraltar, which British marines seized from Spain in 1704.

Spain's foreign ministry played down the incident as a harmless error that would not undermine negotiations aimed at resolving the Gibraltar issue.

Watch as British military personnel temporarily invade Spain during a training exercise (February 19)

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"We are not going to protest. From our point of view the matter is closed," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

A British Ministry of Defence spokesman told Reuters that two landing craft from HMS Ocean accidentally entered Spanish territorial waters and in bad weather one landing craft landed on the beach a few yards over the Spanish side of the border.

He added that it was the first time he had heard of such an error taking place during one of the frequent landing exercises.

"Clearly that is the end of the matter but obviously it is a situation we would rather not have taken place."

The two countries hope to reach a deal on the colony's future in the next few months but many of the 30,000 inhabitants of "The Rock," as the peninsula is known, say they will not accept any move towards Spanish sovereignty.


• 'Good progress' in Gibraltar talks
February 4, 2002
• UK and Spain hold Gibraltar talks
February 3, 2002
• Gibraltar boycotts Rock talks
November 19, 2001

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