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Dispute over heritage site

TWO candidates plan to claim back a potential World Heritage Site named after their village, which they say has been unfairly excluded from their constituency.

They say that if elected, they will take up the issue in parliament and municipal council on the request of residents in A'ali.

Residents are demanding the move after discovering that the A'ali Burial Mounds were within the Central Governorate constituency nine (West Riffa) rather than constituency two (A'ali and Salmabad).

The Culture Ministry had erected new road signs identifying the A'ali mounds in August last year.

Older signs, which made no reference to the village, were removed after complaints from area MP Sayed Abdulla Al A'ali and area councillor Adel Al Sitri, both seeking re-election as Al Wefaq candidates.

However, the site remained officially on maps as Jari Al Shaikh, which residents believe was a baseless name that had no historical or legal grounds.

"There is no historical or legal evidence to tie the burial mounds with the Jari Al Shaikh and no one knows why it was given that name," said Mr Al A'ali.

"Until today, Culture Ministry officials have failed to give us an explanation on the origin of the name, but promised to look into the case but nothing has happened so far."

Mr Al A'ali said residents were delighted the new signs had been erected last year, but were still upset that their famous monumental mounds not being within their constituency.

"It is good that A'ali got its identity back on signs and hopefully the place would be soon acknowledged internationally as a World Heritage Site by the Unesco," he said.

"But, we hope that our valuable asset gets acknowledged as A'ali Burial Mounds not as Jari Al Shaikh, and that it is returned to our constituency bounds rather than that of West Riffa."

Mr Al A'ali, who represents Al Wefaq parliamentary bloc, said that it was ridiculous teaching primary students in government and private schools that the A'ali Burial Mounds were located in A'ali, while in official documents there was no reference.

"The same is with tourists and what really makes me upset is that all local newspapers, including the GDN in its "What's On" pages, still refers to it as A'ali Burial Mounds," he said.

The mounds have been completely fenced off with barbed wire to protect the archaeological site from being destroyed in August.

The Culture Ministry wants to guard the remaining mounds at the site from turning into luxurious villas and other developments, despite plots of land being privately owned.

Ministry officials are trying to convince owners to sell the plots of land where the mounds are located as the Bahraini government plans to have it recognised as a World Heritage Site.

The plans are currently on hold while the government negotiates to buy the land from its owners.

The proposed site includes 11 locations worth millions of dinars, but the ministry's Heritage Department is currently unable to meet the asking price, say officials.

The ministry has drawn up plans for a chain of historic locations, which include remains of temples and the A'ali Burial Mounds.

The A'ali section of the chain would also include burial mounds in Buri and the A'ali pottery area, along with ancient palace remains there.

The ministry announced last year that it was working on protecting 12,000 out of Bahrain's 75,000 remaining burial mounds.

Also included are sites in Abu Janadal and Wadi Al Sail, in the Southern Governorate, three locations in Hamad Town and one each in Janabiya, Saar, Al Qadam, Shakoora and Janusan.

Heritage chiefs hope to get 11 sites protected, with each having its own information centre and museum.

These include a museum for Dilmun relics, dating back 4,000 years, and a pottery culture village.

The 11 sites were suggested for World Heritage Site status to Unesco World Heritage Committee in May last year.



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