Dispute of Bakassi Peninsula Continues

Local Nigerian leaders in the Bakassi Peninsula said they would rather secede than become part of Cameroon as ordered by the International Court of Justice last year.

Nigeria's central government has never said it fully accepts the ruling on the southeastern Bakassi peninsular, but the two sides pledged to settle the dispute amicably and the European Union this week agreed to fund a border commission.

''If at this moment Nigeria decides to turn her back on us we may not have any other option than to pursue self-determination,'' said Joe Etene, member representing Bakassi in the Cross River state House of Assembly.

''We are not Cameroonians and we do not have any business whatsoever with the Cameroonians.''

In June, Cameroon proposed a timetable for Nigeria to withdraw troops and administrative personnel from Bakassi, a 1,000 sq km (400 sq mile) coastal swamp jutting into the Gulf of Guinea. Nigeria says it is concerned about the estimated 300,000 Nigerian nationals who make up 90 percent of the population.

Etinyin Edet, who as Paramount Ruler of Bakassi is the traditional chief of the area, said: ''The time for the self-determination of the Bakassi people has come.''

The Hague-based International Court of Justice ruled in October last year that sovereignty over Bakassi lay with Cameroon based on a colonial-era pact between Britain and Germany.

Any territorial handover would also affect marine borders in an area with rich fish stocks and near huge oil discoveries believed to contain 10 billion barrels.