British troops invaded Spain on Sunday -but beat a hasty retreat when bemused locals informed them their seaborne landing exercise had strayed off course on to a Spanish beach near Gibraltar. Officials said yesterday that about 20 Royal Marines had spent a few minutes on Spanish soil, some distance from their intended training target on the British colony that is the subject of a 300-year dispute between London and Madrid. Spain moved quickly to avoid further blushes for Britain, dismissing the incident as a genuine mistake. 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. 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, a British Ministry of Defence spokesman told Reuters. About 20 Royal Marines disembarked for about five minutes and then the error was recognised and they all withdrew, he said, adding 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. Spain's foreign ministry also played down the incident as a harmless error that would not undermine negotiations, known as the Brussels process, aimed at resolving the Gibraltar issue. We are not going to protest. From our point of view the matter is closed, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. 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, are opposed.
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