Nigeria has begun pull ing its troops out of the Bakassi peninsula ahead of Friday's deadline to hand it over to Came-roon, the Nigerian military said on Monday.
The International Court of Justice ruled in 2002 that Nigeria should turn over Bakassi, which has offshore oil deposits, to its eastern neighbor after a decades-long dispute which nearly brought the two countries to war in 1981. Nigeria cited "technical difficulties" for missing a September 2004 dead-line to pull out, but agreed on June 12 this year to withdraw within 60 days.
"The pullout has already started and I assure you that by Monday next week at the latest the total pullout by the Nigerian army will be complete," said Brigadier General Felix Chukwuma, head of information at the Defense Ministry. Nigeria has a brigade, normally numbering between 1,500 and 3,000 soldiers, stationed in the remote, swampy peninsula on the Gulf of Guinea coast.
The media will be escorted to Bakassi on Friday to witness the with drawal, and a military ceremony marking its completion will probably be held on Monday, Chukwuma added. After almost four years of delays, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo finally agreed to implement the international court ruling at a meeting in June with Camero-onian President Paul Biya at the United Nations in New York.
The June agreement was overseen by Germany, Britain, France and the Uni-ted States, and those countries will also monitor its implementation. Under this deal, Nigerians who remain in Bakassi can keep their citizenship and Nigeria will continue to administer the western part of the territory for two years.
The handover presents few problems from an oil perspective, because the existing offshore concessions mostly respect the court-sanctioned boundary. Bakassi itself has no proven oil or gas deposits on land.