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Nigerian Armed Group Vows to Halt Bakassi Handover, Plans More Attacks

Nigeria is due to complete its withdrawals from the disputed Bakassi peninsula on the 14th of August, but fresh tension is mounting as Nigerian gunmen opposed to the handover intensify attacks on Cameroon troops in the territory. Gilbert da Costa in Abuja reports the Nigerian legislature has yet to ratify the handover deal, leaving the process hanging in the balance.

A little-known group, the Niger Delta Defense and Security Council, has promised more attacks on Cameroonian forces in parts of Bakassi already ceded by Nigeria, unless the deal that gave Bakassi to Cameroon, signed by Nigeria's former president is revised.

Cameroon's defense ministry said twelve people, two Cameroonian soldiers and 10 Nigerian gunmen, were killed Thursday in an attack by an armed gang in Cameroon's oil-rich west, close to the Nigerian border. Eight of the attackers were taken prisoner, a statement said.

Nigerian gunmen in speedboats have routinely attacked Cameroon's military positions in the peninsula in recent months.

At least four deadly assaults have been reported since November 2007 as pressure to abort the final phase of the handover process mounts in Nigeria, leading to increased tension in the region.

The upsurge in attacks coincides with growing resentment within Nigeria of the deal signed by former president Olusegun Obasanjo to abide by the 2002 International Court of Justice ruling that the 1000-square kilometer oil-rich territory belonged to Cameroon. The Nigerian parliament has yet to ratify the deal and various groups have mounted a legal challenge.

Chief Edet Okon, the traditional ruler of Bakassi, says he is not impressed with the last-minute campaign to abort the handover.

"It is amazing to see a group of people who were there when the [former] president took the action, who were supposed to rise up at that time," he said. "They did not do so for reasons best known to them and today after many things have gone astray, somebody is now just waking up to say it was not properly done. Where were those people when those things were done?

Most of the population of the penisula, who are Nigerians, have been given the option of staying under Cameroon authority or being resettled in Nigeria.

The dispute over ownership of the peninsula brought the neighbors close to war in the 1980s.

Bakassi lies east of the restive Niger Delta, the source of nearly all of Nigeria's oil and gas. Oil output from Nigeria, the world's eighth biggest exporter, has been cut by a fifth in the past two years due to attacks on oil infrastructure and personnel by Delta-based militant groups.