x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Top GCC official defends troop deployment to aid Bahrain

A top GCC official says military intervention from Gulf states in Bahrain's protests is not foreign interference, but part of an agreement that GCC nations have to support one another.

ABU DHABI // A top GCC official yesterday defended the council's deployment of soldiers to Bahrain, saying the troops were provided on request, did not represent foreign interference and were not involved in putting down protests.

"Bahrain is an active member of this organisation, and these forces arrived based on a request from Bahrain," said Abdul Rahman al Atiyyah, the secretary general of the GCC.

Soldiers from the pan-Gulf military - the Peninsula Shield Forces - entered Bahrain last week to help restore order to the kingdom, which has been wracked by weeks of unrest.

The majority of the soldiers are Saudi, and the arrival of the troops was greeted with protests by opposition demonstrators and condemnation from Iran, which Gulf countries accuse of meddling in Bahraini affairs.

The Peninsula Shield troops were intended "for protecting strategic structures, and they have nothing to do with things like repression", said Mr al Atiyyah, who was speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Abu Dhabi at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research.

Asked whether the GCC might reconsider its intervention in Bahrain as a result of the protests, Mr al Atiyyah said there were no such plans. "There is no timeline," he said of the Gulf's presence in the kingdom.

At a keynote address earlier yesterday, Mr al Atiyyah stressed that a national dialogue was the only solution to end the unrest in Bahrain.

Hopes had risen earlier at the prospect of talks between opposition groups and Bahrain's government, led by Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa.

However, that appeared more distant following a clampdown on protesters that began last week.

Mr al Atiyyah rejected arguments that the Gulf's intervention in Bahrain constituted interference. "There was a lot of talk and uproar that the Gulf countries are interfering in Bahrain's affairs," he said.

"This is rejected. What the Peninsula Shield Forces did comes out of the mutual defence agreement."

He likened the GCC's response to Nato's intervention to defend a member country.

He said the Gulf rejected foreign interference in the affairs of its members states, including from Iran.

"The collective position of the Gulf countries … stressed that anything that touches the security of a member nation, particularly the Kingdom of Bahrain, harms everyone," he said.

"We do not interfere in the affairs of others, and we do not accept interference in our internal affairs by any external side."

kshaheen@thenational.ae

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