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Spain, UK edge closer on easing ties on Gibraltar

Written by: Staff

LONDON, Feb 22 (Reuters) Britain and Spain made progress in talks this week aimed at agreeing on practical steps to improve strained relations over the British colony of Gibraltar, officials said today.

But two days of meetings between diplomats from both countries plus Gibraltar's Chief Minister Peter Caruana fell short of a wide-ranging agreement on issues such as the shared use of Gibraltar's airport and border restrictions.

''There is more work to be done before agreements can be reached,'' Caruana told reporters in London, but also said all sides wanted to continue their efforts.

The talks were not designed to deal with the sovereignty dispute over Gibraltar, the rocky outcrop on Spain's south coast which Britain seized three centuries ago.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office in London said he expected officials to meet again before foreign ministers convened to conclude an agreement.

''It is important that we continue to move forward in the negotiations to hopefully reach a comprehensive agreement that will work for Spain, the UK and Gibraltar,'' he said.

Britain and Spain agreed in October 2004 that they should address practical issues in a process that would run parallel to discussions on sovereignty.

That agreement followed a referendum in November 2002 in which almost 99 percent of more than 18,000 Gibraltarians voted against Britain giving Spain a share of sovereignty.

Reuters SBJ GC2328

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