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Sunday, July 12, 1998 Published at 14:10 GMT 15:10 UK

World: Middle East

Qatar and Bahrain in dispute over Gulf islands

Neigbouring Qatar and Bahrain are in dispute over the Hawar islands.

The BBC's Gulf correspondent, Frank Gardner, reports from Dubai:

The Gulf states of Qatar and Bahrain are embroiled in a growing dispute over a tiny cluster of barren islands off the coast of Arabia, claimed by both countries.

The BBC correspondent, Frank Gardner reports from Dubai
The Hawar islands are located off the west coast of Qatar, but are controlled by Bahrain, which now plans to develop them for tourism and investment. Qatar says this is a breach of the 1987 bilateral agreement which forbids any change in the islands' status.

The dispute between the neighbouring Gulf states of Bahrain and Qatar over the Hawar islands dates more than 200 years, and their contested ownership has come to poison relations between the two countries' ruling families.

After they nearly went to war in 1986, Qatar submitted the dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, while Bahrain called for direct talks.

[ image: Manama, the capital of Bahrain]
Manama, the capital of Bahrain
The matter had since reached a virtual stalemate until the recent announcement by Bahrain's housing minister of a development plan for the islands.

This includes the construction of a runway for light aircraft, housing units and a 22 kilometre-long causeway to the mainland of Bahrain.

[ image: The Qatar capital, Doha]
The Qatar capital, Doha
Qatar's foreign ministry spokesman, Fawaz al-Attiyah, told the BBC that such a plan constitutes what he called a clear breach of the 1987 accord between the two countries.

He said the accord ruled out any unilateral changes to the status of the islands.

But a highly placed government source in Bahrain told the BBC that the Hawar islands are a part of Bahrain's sovereignty and that it had every right to develop them.

Matters are likely to come to a head over the next three months. The International Court of Justice has given Qatar until September 30 to prove that its claims to the islands are not based on false documents.

Until then, relations between these two Gulf neighbours are likely to remain strained.

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