ROCK OF CONTENTION

Spain seeks new forum for dialogue with Britain on Gibraltar

Foreign minister contacts UK counterpart with proposal of ad-hoc commissions to deal with points of conflict

Looking to defuse a diplomatic row that flared up last month over Gibraltar, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo has written to his British counterpart, William Hague, proposing a new framework for discussing issues concerning the territory.

Spain's current government rejects the tripartite forum set up under Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, which gave equal status to Gibraltar, Spain and the UK.

García-Margallo said Thursday that he had proposed to Hague a "method of working" that would set an "agenda and the composition of ad-hoc groups to resolve conflict."

Hague proposed something along those lines in April of last year, with all the relevant authorities concerned to be involved in resolving issues such as fishing rights and environmental protection measures.

The current conflict was sparked by Gibraltar sinking concrete blocks in waters close to its territory, a move that Spanish fishermen claim is aimed at depriving them of their livelihood. In response, Madrid tightened security checks at the border between Gibraltar and Spain, causing long delays.

García-Margallo also said Spain had sent another letter to the European Commission highlighting what it claims are "illegal" environmental measures, in reference to the concrete blocks.

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