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CALABAR (Dow Jones Newswires), August 14, 2008
Nigeria Thursday handed over the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon to end a 15-year dispute over the territory believed to be rich in oil and gas.
The legal paperwork, in line with a ruling of an international tribunal, was signed by Nigeria's Justice Minister Michael Aondoakaa and by his Cameroonian counterpart Maurice Kanto.
"(Cameroonian) President Paul Biya...looks forward to new, reliable and mutually beneficial relationship between Cameroon and Nigeria," Kanto said just before the handover, which took place in the Nigerian border town of Calabar.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, in a message read out at the ceremony said, "It is a day of triumph for the rule of law, which lies at the very core of the values of the UN."
The U.N. Secretary General's Special Representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit, said the handover should serve as a model for the resolution of other border disputes in Africa.
"As painful as it is, we have a responsibility to keep our commitment to the international community to advance international peace and cooperation...and advance the cause of African brotherhood and good neighborliness," Nigeria's Aondoakaa declared.
He assured local people that the Nigerian government had taken "very serious measures" to resettle anyone wishing to move to Nigeria rather than remain in the peninsula under Cameroonian administration.
He also said that Cameroon would make "every arrangement to fully integrate all those who remain in their ancestral home."
Under the terms of the agreement, the inhabitants of Bakassi, most of whom see themselves as Nigerian, were given three options: keeping Nigerian nationality and remaining as foreign residents in Cameroonian territory, taking Cameroonian nationality or being resettled elsewhere in Nigeria.
Djinnit stressed that the agreement "guarantees the rights and the protection of the Bakassi people."
Representatives from France, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. also attended the ceremony
The transfer, staggered over two years, has been dogged by political disagreements, a last-minute lawsuit and occasional armed clashes.
Observers said the recent security incidents in the peninsula might explain the decision to hold the ceremony in Calabar rather than in Bakassi itself.
Last month, a little-known Nigerian group calling itself the Niger Delta Defense and Security Council, or NDDSC, claimed responsibility for an attack in which 12 people, including two Cameroonian soldiers, died.
In the past several months some 50 people are reported to have died in clashes in the area.
Bakassi, an area of some 1,000 square kilometers is believed to contain oil and gas reserves as well as rich fishing grounds.
The dispute over Bakassi first came to a head in December 1993 when the Nigerian army occupied a number of villages on the peninsula.
Cameroon protested and took its case to the International Court of Justice in the Hague in March 1994.
After a drawn-out legal battle, the ICJ ruled in October 2002 that the peninsula should be given to Cameroon. It based its decision largely on a 1913 treaty between former colonial powers the U.K. and Germany.
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