14 August 2006

Nigerian Hands Over Bakassi Today

Bakassi — AFTER 13 years of dispute over the ownership of the Bakasi Penunsula, Nigeria will today formally hand over the territory to Cameroun at a ceremony at Archibong in Bakasi West Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State.

"It is regrettable that we are being forced to leave our ancestral home," Mary-Clara Usim, a resident of Ambui-Ekpa village on the peninsula, told visiting journalists at the weekend.

Many Nigerians have lived for several decades on the potentially oil-rich peninsula between the two countries, where the Nigerian flag will be lowered and Cameroun's hoisted in its place today.

Nigeria began to withdraw some 3,000 troops from the Gulf of Guinea peninsula on August 1 to comply with an October 2002 ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Today's handover, to be held in Archibong, in the north of the peninsula, is to be attended UN, French, German, US, British and African Union delegates, plus Nigerian and Camerounian military and government officials.

After the ceremony, the two sides are to meet to discuss demarcation of their maritime boundaries in line with the ICJ ruling, officials said.

The ceremony is expected to formally end a bitter dispute that has dragged on for 13 years between Abuja and Yaounde over ownership of the territory, a 1,000-square-kilometre patch of Atlantic coastal swamp with access to coveted fishing grounds.

The dispute over the peninsula led to bloody clashes between the two sides that claimed 34 lives in 1994.

The same year, Yaounde took Abuja to the ICJ in The Hague, which after years of legal wrangling ruled in favour of Cameroun.

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