Belgium, Netherlands to exchange territory - because it 'makes sense'

VISE, Belgium -- Throughout history, borders have caused unfathomable bloodshed, ageless feuds and decades-old legal disputes, which makes plans for a friendly exchange of land between the Netherlands and Belgium all the more remarkable.

See Full Article

The reason for such magnanimity? "Because it makes sense to do so," says Marcel Neven, the mayor of Vise, Belgium.

Well, that and perhaps a little help from a headless body.

While Belgium will be losing a splendid piece of nature that juts into the Meuse River dividing the two nations, it will also unburden itself of a jurisdictional nightmare that developed over time as the river meandered to turn the portion of land belonging to Belgium -- about 15 soccer fields worth -- into a peninsula linked only to the Netherlands.

Over time, the area was rumoured to be increasingly lawless, a haven for drug dealers and illicit sexual escapades. Then, some three years ago, passersby stumbled onto a headless body. "They alerted Dutch authorities, who told them it was Belgian territory," said Jean-Francois Duchesne, police Commissaire of the Lower Meuse region.

In short, the Dutch could not go there because it was Belgian territory, and Belgian police and judicial authorities found it extremely tough to get there. They are not allowed to cross into the Netherlands without special permission and the peninsula had no proper landing zone for boats or equipment coming in by water.

"So we had to go there by boat with all that was needed -- the prosecutor, the legal doctor, the judicial lab -- we had to do round trips over the water. It really was not very practical," Duchesne said.

And beyond that, Neven remembered: "You had to jump from the boat onto the shore. You needed to be in shape for this."

But soon there will be no more wading in water, and a peaceful swap should be reality.

"We should have done it a long time ago," Neven said.

Preparatory work has been done and the two nations' parliaments should be able to complete a deal sometime in 2016, Neven said, almost two centuries after the 1843 border posts were set. And all with a smile on everyone's face, even though Belgium will get only a tiny part around a lock that has been built to promote traffic between the two nations.

"In essence, it is very rare but it can happen," said barrister Malcolm Shaw, an expert on international border disputes. He highlighted how complicated history has woven the borders in the area close to where Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany touch, leaving enclaves and strangely twisted borders.

Border swaps can happen but mostly after bitter quarrels.

On the Indian-Bangladeshi border this summer, a dispute that raged since India's independence from British colonialists in 1947 was settled when the countries swapped more than 150 pockets of land.

Earlier this month, it took the United Nations' highest court to settle a dispute between two Central American nations. The court ruled that Nicaragua violated Costa Rica's territorial integrity in a longstanding fight over a small chunk of land near the shores of the Caribbean Sea.

Belgian military historian Luc De Vos said that friendship between neighbours makes all the difference.

"It is possible between Belgium and the Netherlands because these countries have a lot of ties for centuries and after the second World War territory was no longer that important," De Vos said.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Trump takes umbrage at his national security adviser's Russian interference comments

    World News CBC News
    President Donald Trump could not let his national security adviser's comments earlier Saturday in front of an international security conference about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election go unaddressed. Gen. H.R. McMaster told an audience at the Munich Security Conference that the evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 American election was beyond dispute. Source
  • Russia, U.S. tight-lipped about deadly Syria episode involving their forces

    World News CBC News
    The United States is still unsure who directed a Feb. 7 attack on U.S. and U.S.-backed forces in Syria, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said on Saturday, even as he acknowledged accounts that Russian civilian contractors were involved. Source
  • Kosovo marks progress, if not universal recognition, on 10th anniversary

    World News CBC News
    Kosovo is celebrating 10 years of independence from Serbia in two-day festivities that started Saturday amid reminders of the obstacles to the country's full acceptance. President Hashim Thaci said during a panel at the Munich Security Conference that his country's decade-long history was "a story of success," but he lamented the European Union's lack of unity over Kosovo's status as a membership candidate. Source
  • Air Canada Express plane returns to Saskatoon due to flames near tail pipe

    Canada News CTV News
    SASKATOON - An Air Canada Express plane had to return to Saskatoon shortly after takeoff when flames were reported to be coming from it. Airline spokesperson Teri Udle says in an email that Flight 8585, a Dash 8 Q400 operated by Jazz, was on its way to Calgary on Saturday when flames were noticed near the left tail pipe. Source
  • 'I will not just shut up and dribble': LeBron James won't be silent on social issues

    World News CBC News
    LeBron James says he will not stick to sports. The Cleveland Cavaliers superstar reiterated his determination to speak out on social issues and the nation's political climate Saturday during his media availability for the NBA All-Star Game. Source
  • Trump focuses on first responders after Florida shooting

    World News CTV News
    POMPANO BEACH, Fla. -- U.S. President Donald Trump has made a grim trip to a Florida community reeling from a deadly school shooting, meeting privately with victims and cheering the heroics of first responders. But he extended few public words of consolation to those in deep mourning, nor did Trump address the debate over gun violence that has raged since a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 and injured 14 others. Source
  • 'The pilot called mayday': Tailpipe flames force plane to return to Saskatoon airport

    Canada News CBC News
    A fire on an Air Canada Express plane forced an emergency landing at the Saskatoon airport on Saturday. Teri Udle of Jazz Aviation said in a statement that shortly after takeoff from Saskatoon at about 11:20 a.m. Source
  • Indian migrant workers file complaint over temple work with Ontario government

    Canada News CBC News
    Two migrant workers from India who say they faced harsh living conditions and were drastically underpaid as sculptors at a Hindu religious charity organization in Toronto are seeking thousands of dollars in unpaid wages from the Carnforth Road-based temple. Source
  • Israel slams Polish PM for WWII 'Jewish perpetrators' remark

    World News CTV News
    JERUSALEM -- Israeli politicians accused Poland's prime minister of anti-Semitism Saturday for equating the Polish perpetrators in the Holocaust to its supposed "Jewish perpetrators," setting off a new chapter in an angry dispute over Poland's new bill criminalizing the mention of Polish complicity in the Nazi-led genocide. Source
  • Joe Biden, in public and private, tiptoes toward a 2020 run

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Former U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden is tiptoeing toward a potential run in 2020, even broaching the possibility during a recent gathering of longtime foreign policy aides. Huddled in his newly opened office steps from the U.S. Source