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U.N. Commission Meets On Bakassi Peninsula


The U.N. commission overseeing the implementation of the transfer of the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon is meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, to hammer out details of a 2002 world court decision forcing Nigeria to hand over the region to Cameroon.

An important moment in the transfer of the long fought over sliver of land was lost recently when Nigeria refused to hand over control to Cameroon. Nigeria had agreed to withdraw its troops from Bakassi on September 15, but did not, for what officials involved in the process said were unspecified technical reasons.

Despite the delay, the U.N.-created Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, made up of representatives from both countries, is continuing its work towards the eventual handover of the peninsula.

Jean Emmanuel Pondi is the Director of the Institute of International Relations in Cameroon. He says even though the transfer did not take place as scheduled, he remains hopeful.

He says, "We know that in history there is always hesitation, there is always delay, but, in the end, history shows the verdict will be applied."

Among other things, the mixed commission's job involves demarcating the maritime boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon, a crucial issue for both countries. It is widely believed that rich oil resources and fish stocks are waiting to be discovered in the peninsula's waters of the Gulf of Guinea.

The commission was also set up to address concerns by the Nigerian government, which initially refused to accept the ruling by the International Court of Justice. Nigeria says the needs of Bakassi's indigenous Nigerian population must be considered. Mr. Pondi of the Cameroon Institute says the commission's job is purely technical, and, as such, will ensure that the initial ruling will be respected.

He says, "They are not entitled to take political decisions and their mandate is to apply the decision of the Hague, not to question it. Now it's a question of modalities. How to make sure that both parties find the process acceptable. "

But he adds that delays are inevitable.

"Where there might be problems is with the parliament, with part of the population, with agitators on all sides and maybe some extremists also, and I think that's why it hasn't gone as quickly as everyone would have expected," he says.

There has been some progress. Last December, Nigeria gave Cameroon control over a number of villages in the north, near the shores of Lake Chad, and received one in return.

No new date has been announced on exactly when the handover of Bakassi will take place. But the U.N. commission and the presidents of Nigeria and Cameroon have said they are committed to making sure it will happen.