Spain has bolstered its military presence in its north African enclave of Melilla following Morocco's criticism of Madrid for refusing to discuss the Spanish cities on its coast, a newspaper reported. Right-wing newspaper ABC reported that Spain had sent a company of regular troops and two patrol boats to the Chafarinas Islands to the east of Melilla, close to Morocco's border with Algeria. Morocco's King Mohammed last week criticised Spain's refusal to negotiate the future of what he called the “occupied zones” of Ceuta and Melilla. Spain considers the enclaves of about 70'000 people each to be fully integrated parts of Spain but Morocco sees them as colonies occupied by a foreign power that should have been returned to Morocco upon independence from France in 1956. No one at Spain's Foreign Ministry or the Ministry of Defence was available to comment. Relations between Morocco and Spain hit a low in June when Moroccan troops occupied the tiny uninhabited island of Perejil claimed by Spain. The Moroccans were then expelled by Spain in a bloodless military operation. Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio told a newspaper on Sunday she hoped to restore mutual trust with Morocco following their territorial spat but that would never lead to talks on Morocco's claims over Ceuta and Melilla. Palacio recently visited Moroccan counterpart Mohamed Benaissa in Rabat and he is due to visit Madrid in September, when they will discuss returning recalled ambassadors. Palacio rejected any similarities between Spain's possession of Ceuta and Melilla to the British colony of Gibraltar on Spain's southern coast, which was captured by Britain in 1704. London and Madrid are currently negotiating joint sovereignty over Gibraltar.

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