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Nigeria Hands Over Disputed Bakassi to Cameroon

A 15-year dispute about the Bakassi Peninsula was brought to an end, Thursday, with the transfer of authority from Nigeria to Cameroon. The hand-over process has been dogged by threats of attacks by an armed group opposed to the transfer. From Abuja, Gilbert da Costa has more in this report.

Two years ago, the Nigerian government agreed to transfer Bakassi, in line with a 2002 International Court of Justice ruling, which said the area belonged to Cameroon.

However, most residents of the peninsula - predominantly Nigerian fishermen and their families - oppose the transfer of sovereignty on the 1000-square-kilometer land. A Nigerian rebel group launched two attacks on Cameroonian soldiers in Bakassi, last month, and is threatening further violence.

Security was beefed up for Thursday's ceremony.

Opponents of the change argue the agreement to hand over the territory was never ratified by the parliament, as required by the constitution.

The Action Congress, one Nigeria's top opposition parties, says the transfer can only be deemed legitimate if it is endorsed by the national assembly. Lai Mohammed speaks for the party.

"Municipal law is stronger, in certain areas, than international law," he said. "So, even though it is true that we ought to respect the ruling of the World Court, our constitution says that any treaty that is relating to seceding or taking over or annexing any part of the country must be ratified by the national assembly. And, that is what we are asking the government to do."

President Umaru YarAdua has described the transfer of Bakassi to Cameroon as "very painful to all," but says Nigeria has a duty to fulfill its international commitments.

Peter Egom, an international relations analyst and senior researcher at the Lagos-based Nigerian Institute for International Affairs, says President YarAdua is left with no choice than to accept the ruling of the World Court.

"YarAdua is in a very tight spot. If I were in his position, I will do the same," he said. "Either we are playing by the rules of the game or not. We went to the International Court of Justice and there is a verdict against us, and we are stuck with it. So, what do you expect us to do? To renege on what we are party to? No, we can't do that."

The two West African nations nearly went to war over the peninsula, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas, in the 1990s.

Cameroon first took its case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 1994.