Cameroon Flag Hoisted Over Bakassi As Nigerian Troops Pull Out
14 Aug 2006
Nigerian soldiers marched home on Monday as the Cameroonian flag was hoisted over the disputed Bakassi peninsula, ending a decades long row over ownership of the territory wedged between Nigeria and Cameroon.
Despite calls from some of the peninsula's residents for Nigeria to stay, its 3,000 troops stationed on the 700 sq km strip of land withdrew, closing the curtain on a dispute that has almost brought the two neighbours to war.
Nigerian Minister of Justice Bayo Ojo and his Cameroonian counterpart Maurice Kamto signed the official transfer documents as United Nations envoy Kieran Prendergast and representatives of Britain, France, Germany and the United States looked on.
Prendergast described Nigeria's decision to cede the territory in accordance with a 2002 ruling by a UN court as an example of "the peaceful settlement of disputes and respect for international law".
Cameroonian troops will not immediately take over the northern part of the peninsula vacated by Nigeria under a deal brokered by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to implement the International Court of Justice ruling. After long negotiations, the deal was signed by Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo and Cameroon's Paul Biya in June.
The southern section of the peninsula known as West Atabong and Akwabana will remain under Nigerian administrative control for another two years, giving the mainly Nigerian population of the strip of land that juts into the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea the time to decide to opt for Cameroonian sovereignty or evacuate to Nigeria.
No military presence by either country is expected in the area for a period of five years, when Cameroon is scheduled to take full administrative control under the terms of the deal.
The estimated 150,000-300,000 inhabitants of the peninsula have condemned Nigeria's decision to cede what they consider their ancestral land. Last week a group called the Bakassi Self Determination Movement declared its independence from both Nigeria and Cameroon.
"We insist on our natural right to determine our future," Tony Ene, the group's leader, told IRIN on Monday. "If Nigeria does not want us, we choose to go it alone and not with Cameroon."
With the handover, many residents have declared their intention to evacuate to mainland Nigeria, expressing anxiety about what the future holds under Cameroonian rule.
"It is a gross violation of our human rights that the United Nations decided to award our land to Cameroon without seeking our opinion," Victor Ekang, a university student and resident of Bakassi, told IRIN.
Decades of dispute over ownership of the peninsula, which is rich in oil and fish, brought the neighbours close to war in the 1980s. After Nigeria moved to fully occupy the territory in December 1994, Cameroon filed a case at the ICJ at The Hague seeking to determine legal ownership.
The ICJ ruled that the land belonged to Cameroon on the grounds of a 1913 treaty between colonial powers Britain and Germany.
Nigeria initially rejected the ruling as a "colonial conspiracy" but finally accepted it following the mediation of UN Secretary General Annan.