13 June 2006

Nigeria, Cameroon Sign Agreement Ending Decades-Old Border Dispute; Sets Procedures for Nigerian Withdrawal from Bakassi Peninsula

Secretary-General Says Accord, Which Will Complete Implementation of 2002 ICJ Judgement, "Crowns a Remarkable Experiment in Conflict Prevention"

NEW YORK, 12 June (UN Headquarters) -- The Presidents of Nigeria and Cameroon today signed an Agreement settling a decades-old, sometimes violent, border dispute over the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula, following intensive mediation over the weekend by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"The signing ceremony, which has brought us together, crowns a remarkable experiment in conflict prevention by Cameroon and Nigeria," Mr. Annan said of the Agreement, which provides for the withdrawal of Nigerian troops within 60 days, with a possible 30-day extension, from Bakassi, which the International Court of Justice, the top United Nations judicial body, awarded to Cameroon in 2002.

"With today's Agreement on the Bakassi Peninsula, a comprehensive resolution of the dispute is within our grasp," the Secretary-General added at the ceremony at the Greentree estate in Manhasset outside New York.  "The momentum achieved must be sustained."  Under the Agreement, transitional arrangements will be completed in two years on the peninsula, which was the last of four areas to be demarcated in accordance with the International Court of Justice decision.

"Our Agreement today is a great achievement in conflict prevention, which practically reflects its cost-effectiveness when compared to the alternative of conflict resolution," Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo said.  "Its significance, therefore, goes much beyond Nigeria and Cameroon.  It should represent a model for the resolution of similar conflicts in Africa and, I dare say, in the world at large."

"Reason and wisdom have been our main guides," Cameroon's President Paul Biya added.  "By signing the present Agreement, we have armed ourselves with an efficient instrument to implement the Court's decision bringing a definitive conclusion to our border dispute."

The historic Agreement came some 12 years after Cameroon asked the International Court of Justice to rule on a dispute "relat[ing] essentially to the question of sovereignty over the Bakassi Peninsula", which it claimed was in part under military occupation by Nigeria, and to determine the maritime boundary between the countries.  Later, in 1994, Cameroon's Government extended the case to a further dispute, relating to "the question of sovereignty over a part of the territory of Cameroon in the area of Lake Chad", which it claimed was also occupied by Nigeria.

The Secretary-General has led the United Nations efforts to help resolve the stalemate over the peninsula, which is located on the Gulf of Guinea, and has been the subject of intense disputes between the two countries for years.  As late as last year the dispute was still claiming victims -- two Cameroonian soldiers killed and another wounded.

On 5 September 2002, Mr. Annan met in Paris with the two Presidents, who both promised to respect and implement whatever decision the International Court of Justice might give on the case.  Barely a week later, the Court essentially awarded Cameroon rights to the oil-rich peninsula.  Shortly after that, Nigeria said in a position paper that the judgment did not consider "fundamental facts" about the Nigerian inhabitants of the territory, whose "ancestral homes" the Court adjudged to be in Cameroonian territory.

At another summit called by Mr. Annan on 15 November 2002, the two Heads of State agreed to establish a United Nations-backed implementation mechanism -- the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, which would be chaired by the Secretary-General's Special Representative, Ahmedou Ould-Adballah.  The panel would consider all the implications of the International Court's decision, including the need to protect the rights of the affected populations in both countries.

The Mixed Commission, which met alternately in the two countries' capitals -- Abuja and Yaoundé, was also entrusted with the task of demarcating the land boundary between the two countries and making recommendations on additional confidence-building measures, such as the holding of regular meetings between local authorities, Government officials and Heads of State.  Such measures would also include the development of joint-venture projects, avoidance of inflammatory statements on Bakassi, troop withdrawals along the land boundary, demilitarization of the peninsula and the reactivation of the Lake Chad Basin Commission.

Today, Mr. Annan noted the "stunning" cost-effectiveness of the Mixed Commission, which is based in Dakar and staffed by fewer than a dozen professionals.  With a handful of international civilian observers, currently based in Yaoundé, but no peacekeeping element, the Commission's small budget of some $5 million per year is supplemented by contributions to a United Nations trust fund to pay the costs of demarcating the land boundary.  In the two years following the Commission's establishment, the observers witnessed the withdrawal of civil administration, military and police forces, along with the peaceful and orderly transfer of authority in about 40 villages, without any significant incident reported about the rights of the affected populations.

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