Nigeria hands over disputed Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon

August 14th, 2008 - 11:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Abuja, Aug 14 (DPA) Nigeria Thursday officially handed over the potentially oil-rich Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon, ending a decades-long dispute that almost brought the two West African nations to war. The ceding of the peninsula was ordered by the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague in an October 2002 ruling following a suit filed in 1994 by Cameroon.

However, legal battles and sporadic violence by Nigerian militants held up the final handover, and some militant groups recently threatened to step up attacks if the handover went ahead.

Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice Michael Aondoakaa carried out the symbolic handover to Cameroonian Minister of State for Justice Maurice Kamto.

The ceremony took place in Calabar, the capital of Nigeria’s Cross River state, to which Bakassi used to belong.

Senior UN officials and representatives of France, Germany, Britain and the US witnessed the event.

Aondoakaa said the handover marked “a great milestone in the history of the two countries.”

“We are saddled with the painful, but most important task of handing over Bakassi to Cameroon,” he said. “We have a commitment to the international community to promote peace and brotherliness between our countries.”

Professor Kamto said Thursday’s ceremony was a “historic moment, showing brotherly celebration of cooperation between the two countries.”

A spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week said that the peaceful end to a “potentially dangerous border dispute” should function as a model for negotiating settlements to border disputes elsewhere.

The two West African nations nearly went to war over the peninsula in 1981.

Further Nigerian military build-up over 10 years later led Cameroon to take its case to the ICJ in March 1994.

The ICJ finally ruled in October 2002 that Cameroon should receive the peninsula, basing its decision on a 1913 treaty between former colonial masters Germany and Britain.

Cameroon and Nigeria signed the “Greentree” agreement to pave the way for the handover in New York in 2006 during US-mediated talks.

The chairman of the UN-backed Follow-up Committee on Bakassi, Kieran Prendergast, said during the ceremony that the UN was “happy about the handover”.

However, not everyone is thrilled by the final exchange.

The ceremony was moved from Bakassia to Calabar to avoid the possibility of militant attacks.

Dozens have died in clashes in recent months as Nigerian troops have gradually handed over control to Cameroon.

In the latest battle in July, 10 rebels and two Cameroonian soldiers were killed, while in November last year at least 21 Cameroonian soldiers were killed by unknown attackers.

The roughly 200,000 inhabitants of Bakassi are largely Nigerian, many of them fishermen.

Bakassi residents have sought compensation of $3.3 billion in a case still pending at an Abuja court.

Fishermen who the Nigerian state are resettling say that their new home is landlocked and inhabited by people hostile to Bakassi “refugees”.

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