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Nigeria to Delay Withdrawal from Potentially Oil Rich Peninsula - 2004-09-14

Nigerian officials say they will not remove their troops and hand over the potentially oil-rich Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon as scheduled Wednesday. The United Nations has been helping to organize the hand-over following a 2002 decision by the International Court of Justice that awarded the disputed area to Cameroon.

The announcement follows months of negotiations between Cameroon, Nigeria, and the United Nations to end the dispute after decades of arguing over which country held a legitimate claim to the 665-square-kilometer marshy swampland. An analyst with the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, Alex Vines says a delay of the hand-over is not surprising. But, he says Nigeria's underlying intentions are the key issue.

"This is a very kind of poor area with few people, but potentially oil-rich," he said. "There is an incentive to kind of hold on to maximum territory and there is a worry that Nigeria could swing away from having said it would agree to the International Court of Justice decision that it could swing away through complicating factors like a referendum. But certainly the presence or potential presence of oil complicates this issue tremendously."

The case was brought before the U.N. sponsored International Court of Justice in 2002, after several military skirmishes led to the deaths of nearly 100 people on the tiny peninsula. The court ruled in favor of Cameroon, but compensated Nigeria with other areas.

A spokeswoman for the court says it is not the role of the court to ensure its rulings are implemented, but that the parties need to comply with the decisions. If one party does not feel the ruling is being carried out, it can make a complaint to the U.N. Security Council.

A legitimate concern for Nigeria, Africa's largest oil-producing nation, is that there has been no maritime demarcation for the Bakassi peninsula that juts out into the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea.

Mr. Vines says Nigeria should clarify why the delay is taking place in order to continue friendly relations with its neighbor Cameroon.

"Cameroon has the moral high ground here," added Mr. Vines. "It has the International Court of Justice ruling of October 2002 in its favor. It will, therefore, have international support for its position. Cameroon has not anything to worry about at this stage. Nigeria is the one that could come under pressure later on."

The Nigerian federal parliament has offered no further details for the delay, but the U.N. office for West Africa issued a statement saying a new agenda will be released in the next few days.