Qatar Vs Bahrain Land Dispute Enters Final Phase at World Court

Published May 28th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Qatar versus Bahrain, the longest legal bout in the history of the World Court, enters the final round on Monday when the two Gulf neighbors lay out their rival claims to potentially oil-rich territory. 

Having failed to reach an amicable settlement and with Gulf mediation exhausted, tensions have risen in the last week as Manama and Doha traded charges. 

Qatar unilaterally took the border dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague on July 8, 1991, saying it stemmed from the British colonial presence in the Gulf that ended two decades earlier. 

The row centres on Doha's claim to the Hawar islands and Fasht al-Dibel rocks, which are potentially rich in oil and gas reserves, but held by Bahrain since the 1930s, and Manama's claim to the Zubara strip on Qatar's coast. 

A 17-judge World Court panel has said it would also rule at the end of five weeks of public hearings on "the areas for fishing for pearls and for fish, and any other matters connected with maritime boundaries". 

After mounting Bahraini criticism and strained ties, the two countries had finally agreed last December to withdraw the case from the UN body if they could reach agreement on their own. 

The newfound enthusiasm was dashed on May 19 as Bahrain suspended the work of a high-level joint committee, protesting that Qatar had failed to respond to its proposals for a settlement. 

The committee's work has led to an exchange of ambassadors and the start of flights to Manama by Qatar's national carrier, but plans to build a causeway between the two states have been put on hold by the suspension of the committee. 

Bahrain's emir on Saturday braced his people for the World Court ruling and warned that an impact on relations was inevitable. 

"Bahrain regrets not having reached a brotherly solution to this boundary dispute which Bahrain sought persistently to achieve until the last moment," the Emir of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa announced. 

"Bahrain is known to take reasonable and dispassionate positions and to refrain from confrontation. 

"We shall continue to do so as long as our rights are preserved. Every situation has its limits," the Emir said, pointing out that a third of Bahrain's land was at stake. 

After Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, visited Manama on May 24, the two Gulf states said the committee would resume work after the World Court gives its verdict. 

"We are not opposed to a brotherly settlement but each party is sticking to its position so we have to prepare our two peoples to accept a verdict from the court," the emir of Qatar explained. 

The dispute almost degenerated into armed conflict in 1986, but King Fahd of Saudi Arabia stepped in to contain the crisis. The United Arab Emirates has also tried in vain to mediate an accord. 

The row dates back to 1939 when Britain granted the Bahraini archipelago ownership of small islands including the Hawar, which Manama has been turning into a tourism resort. Qatar, a peninsula, has long contested the British decision. 

Among the piles of historical data and expert reports submitted by the two sides ahead of the World Court hearings, Qatar withdrew 82 documents, which Bahrain charged were forged - MANAMA (AFP) 



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