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Cameroon, Nigeria Agree to Expedite Boundary Talks

United Nations Secretary- General Kofi Annan, center, speaks to the press after his meeting with President Paul Biya of Cameroon, right, and President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria
The presidents of Cameroon and Nigeria have agreed to expedite negotiations aimed at the withdrawal of Nigerian troops stationed along a disputed land and maritime boundary between their two countries. The two presidents met there with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

This is the fourth time the leaders of Cameroon and Nigeria have met since the International Court of Justice ruled that the disputed Bakassi peninsula belongs to Cameroon. Since that October 10, 2002, ruling, a so-called Mixed Commission, comprised of Cameroon, Nigeria and the United Nations, has been working to implement the court's decision.

The commission has been trying to determine the 1600 kilometer frontier between Lake Chad and Bakassi, and maritime boundary into the Gulf of Guinea. It also has been trying to negotiate the withdrawal of Nigerian troops from the delineated border.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is mediating the negotiations, says President Paul Biya of Cameroon and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo have agreed that the troop pullout would be set as soon as possible.

"It is important that the Mixed Commission proceed with its work as expeditiously as possible,” Mr. Annan said. “President Biya and President Obasanjo agreed to continue with the process of the delimitation of the maritime boundary, based on the judgment of the International Court of Justice. We also agreed that a new program of withdrawal of the Nigerian troops would be worked out and agreed upon by the two presidents and myself."

Mounting tensions over the border, which contains oil-rich land and sea reserves, escalated into war between the two countries at the end of 1993. This resulted in the deployment of Nigerian military to the disputed area. Cameroon brought the case to the International Court of Justice in 1994. In 2002, the court confirmed Cameroon's sovereignty over portions of the territory in question. Nigeria also made certain land gains.

Cameroon's president, Paul Biya, says he is returning home confident that progress is being made toward a final resolution of the border issue.

President Biya says he and his Nigerian counterpart have agreed to re-aunch the boundary negotiations. He says everyone, including Nigeria, recognizes that Cameroon has sovereignty over the territory. He says he is confident that agreement will be reached, regarding the withdrawal of Nigerian troops from the disputed zone.

U.N. secretary-general Annan says the two leaders took some hard decisions during their five hours of talks. He says the Mixed Commission now will sit down and work out a timetable for troop withdrawal. He says it is agreed that the United Nations will monitor and verify the withdrawal.