More Nations Whip Up Squalls over Tiny Isles FOR OIL, FISH, PRIDE Series: Sipadon Island Boasts Some of the World's Best Scuba Diving and Is Currently under Malaysian Control. Indonesia Claims It Too., MELANIE STETSON FREEMAN-STAFF/FILE; 3) OF STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE: The Former Soviet Union Seized Four Islands in the Kurile Island Chain in the Closing Days of World War II. Japan Has Demanded Their Return Ever since. Russia Says the Island Bases Help Its Defense against American Nuclear-Armed Submarines., CURTA-AFP/FILE; 4 & 5) SYMBOLS OF NATIONALISM: South Korean Children (L.) Shout Anti-Japanese Slogans in Seoul Last Month after a Simmering Territorial Dispute over the Islet of Tokdo (or Takeshima , as It Is Known in Japan) Flared Up Again. This Year Both Countries Have Declared Exclusive Economic Zones That Include Tokdo. A Turkish SWAT Team (above) Descended on the Aegean Islets of Imea in January. the Brief Crisis between Turkey and Greece over the Uninhabited Islets Was Soothed with the US Help and Mediation., HANKYOREH SHINMUN/REUTERS, HURRIYET; E) AT WAR: Argentine Soldiers Eat a Hurried Lunch during Their 1982 Invasion of the Falkland Islands. the War with Britain Resulted in about 1,000 Dead and a Stronger British Garrison on the Islands., UPI/FILE. MAP: Island Hot Spots - Who's Stalking a Claim. International Boundaries Expert Clive Schofield at the University of Durham in Britain Has Identified 10 Island Groups That Have Prompted or May Prompt Conflict. Many Are Known by More Than One Name. the Following Labels Are Most Often Used by Nonpartisan Analysts. IMEA: Greece and Turkey, SERPENT ISLE: Ukraine and Romania, KURILE ISLANDS: Japan and Russia, TOKDO: South Korea and Japan, HANISH ISLANDS: Eritrea and Yemen, SPRATLY ISLANDS: China, Brunei, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malysia, and Vietnam, SENKAKU ISLANDS: Japan, China, and Taiwan, FALKLAND ISLANDS: Britain and Argentina, ABU MUSA AND TUNB ISLANDS: Iran and United Arab Emirates, and SIPADON AND LIGATON: Malaysian and Indonesia., DAVE HERRING - STAFF

Article excerpt

IF you are interested in forecasting conflicts between nations, you would do well to look to the seas.

Tucked away in various watery spots around the globe are several likely flash points: once obscure islands that are gaining in economic, strategic, and nationalistic importance.

In 1982, Britain and Argentina fought a war over the Falkland Islands in which about 1,000 people were killed. Today the potential for armed conflict is present or increasing in at least a half-dozen cases where nations disagree over other islands or island groups, experts say.

Some of the world's bigger islands - Ireland, Cyprus, and Taiwan - have long been the scene of strife and dispute. But in recent months, several countries have been at odds over much smaller ocean properties, some of them rocky outcroppings that can barely sustain human habitation.

Last December, 12 Yemenis were killed in fighting with Eritrean forces over the Hanish Islands in the Red Sea. Early this year the US had to soothe Turkey and Greece over their confrontation over a tiny island in the Aegean. Japan and South Korea this February bickered over a pair of bird-infested islets in the Sea of Japan.

For a variety of reasons, countries are becoming more interested in asserting claims to tiny bits of real estate they once ignored. "More and more states are looking for offshore resources," says Gerald Blake, director of the International Boundaries Research Unit (IBRU) at the University of Durham in Britain. "The technology is there to do it, and this is one reason countries tend to be looking in places where they haven't been looking before."

As global fishing stocks dwindle and technological advances make it cheaper to get to the oil, gas, and minerals on or under the sea floor, coastal nations are growing more serious about controlling a larger slice of oceans.

Many countries are in the process of ratifying a United Nations treaty that allows coastal states to declare a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in which they may control access to fish and mineral deposits.

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which went into force in November 1994, title to an outlying island can dramatically expand the size of the EEZ a nation can claim. Although the treaty is bringing order to the world's seas, it is also giving countries a reason to pursue claims to disputed islands.

Strategic interests drive some island disputes. In 1971 Iran seized Abu Musa and the Tunb Islands, located at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. "The time will come," says Mr. Blake, "when the Arab world will want those islands back and {Persian} Iran will not be willing to give them back. I think {the islands are} very dangerous."

Often intertwined with strategic concerns is a claimant's sense of national pride. Such cases appear more likely to produce conflict. "Economic issues one can ultimately negotiate," says Jon Van Dyke, a professor of international law at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. "But the strategic and national-pride issues frequently cannot be negotiated."

Many island disputes are in Asia, where Mr. Van Dyke says there is little tradition of turning to a third party to resolve a dispute. In several places in Asia, he adds, "we're seeing a logjam or stalemate."

At the Monitor's request, Clive Schofield, deputy director of the University of Durham's IBRU, drew up a list of 10 island hot spots. Several other academics and international lawyers working on island issues generally concurred with Mr. Schofield's selection. Here then is a rough guide to islands and islets that have prompted armed conflict between nations or may do so in the future.

(Many of the islands are known by different names. Here the labels are those used most often by nonpartisan analysts.)

ASIA

The Kuriles: Russia seized four islands in this chain in the closing days of World War II and Japan has demanded their return ever since. …