BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Britain and Spain have agreed to open the frontier between Spain and the island of Gibraltar for the first time since 1967 and start talks that could end Britain's 280-year hold on the strategic point, it was announced Tuesday.
The agreement was worked out during two days of talks between British Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe and Spanish Foreign Minister Fernando Moran at a European Economic Community meeting.
In a joint statement, the two ministers said their nations have agreed to establish free movement of persons, vehicles and goods between Gibraltar and the neighboring territory beginning no later than Feb. 15.
The day that free movement begins also will mark the start of negotiations aimed at overcoming all differences over Gibraltar between the two countries, the statement said.
'Both sides accept that the issue of sovereignty will be discussed in that process,' the statement said.
Perched on Spain's south coast, Gibraltar was captured by Britain from Spain in 1704 and held as Britain's only European colony ever since. Spain has demanded since 1964 that the 2 -square-mile island be retruned, despite a 1967 referendum in which residents voted 12,138 to 44 to continue under British rule.
Spanish dictator Francisco Franco closed Spain's land frontier to Gibraltar in 1967. Negotiations have taken place sporadically between Britain and Spain since 1972.
The chief minister of the island, Sir Joshua Hassan, welcomed the announcement that travel restrictions to Spain would be lifted, but added, 'I naturally enter reservation with regard to the question of sovereignty.'
Asked in a British Broadcasting Corp. radio interview if Gibraltar's 31,000 inhabitants would accept some form of Anglo-Spanish joint sovereignty over the Rock, Hassan said, 'No, not all all, not in this generation ... My judgment is that this generation and the immediate generation that follows will not want to do that.'
Howe said that 'Britain, for its part, has put firmly on record the commitment to honor the wishes of the people of Gibraltar in accordance with their constitution.' The constitution declares that Gibraltar will not return to Spanish control unless a majority of the island's residents request it.
Moran said Spain feels the talks should lead to 'the reintegration of Gibraltar in Spain and under Spanish sovereignty, with maximum respect of the rights of the Gibraltarians.'
Howe refused to speculate on the future of the British military base on Gibraltar, which controls the access to the Mediterranean.