Manama: Qatar has allowed nine Bahraini men to go home after they were detained for allegedly entering Qatari waters illegally during a fishing trip.
Four of the men were taxi drivers and were fishing amateurs who had strayed into the Qatari waters, Bahraini media said amid hope that their release would ease the escalating tension between the neighbouring countries and help the repatriation of dozens of Bahrain-based fishermen currently in Qatari custody.
The shooting of a Bahraini fisherman earlier this month has seemingly strained relations between Manama and Doha nine years after they settled a bitter decade-long border dispute through the International Court of Justice.
Qatari coastguards said that they shot the fisherman, Adel Al Taweel, after he refused to comply with their orders to leave Qatar's waters and did not heed their warning shots. However, Bahrain said that the use of live bullets could have been avoided.
Qatar is very sensitive about intrusions on its waters amid concerns about drug-smuggling and the existence of large gasfields close to Bahrain border.
Attempts by a medical team and a human rights delegation from Bahrain to repatriate Al Taweel had failed after Doha said that he would face trial. The snub prompted the Bahraini government on Sunday to call for the release of 107 Bahrain-based fishermen and the foreign minister urged the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Manama and Doha are members, to adopt standards that would help avoid incidents involving Gulf-based fishermen and boat users.
A newly formed National Human Rights Commission on Monday said that it would seek to work with its Qatari counterpart for a quick resolution of the issue. Bahrain and Qatar have been locked for months in a standoff over the nomination of Mohammad Al Mutawa, Bahrain's former information minister, to succeed outgoing Qatari GCC secretary general, Abdul Rahman Al Atiyyah.
Qatar said that it acknowledged Bahrain's turn to hold the rotating position, but insisted that Manama select a different nominee.
No explanation was given for the Qatari rejection, but observers link it with Al Mutawa's stance and statements during the border standoff between the two neighbours before the verdict from The Hague. However, Bahrain is building on the public vote of confidence from the other four GCC countries to insist that Al Mutawa would be the next GCC head.