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Around 3,000 Moroccans illegally enter Spain's Ceuta enclave -spokesman

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By Reuters

MADRID (Reuters) -Around 3,000 Moroccan citizens illegally entered Spain’s northern Africa enclave of Ceuta on Monday, a spokesman for the Spanish government’s delegation in Ceuta said, at a time of increased diplomatic tension between both countries.

They arrived in Ceuta swimming and included around 1,000 minors, the spokesman said.

Spain’s Interior Ministry said in a statement that it would increase the security presence in the area and said both countries had recently agreed that Spain would return to Morocco anyone who would illegally enter Ceuta by water.

Spanish media interpreted the mass crossing of migrants to Ceuta as a mark of Morocco’s discontent with Spain over the fate of Brahim Ghali, the leader of the Polisario Front, a group which has fought for decades for independence for Western Sahara.

Ghali is hospitalised in Spain, a Spanish diplomatic source told Reuters.

There has been no official confirmation from Spain, but Morocco’s foreign ministry issued a strongly worded statement last month, deploring what it said was the decision of Spain to let Ghali in under a false identity without informing Morocco and saying Spain’s decision would have repercussions for their relations.

(Reporting by Belen Carreno, Joan FausWriting by Joan FausEditing by Ingrid Melander and Grant McCool)