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Nigeria, Cameroon Agree to Settle Bakassi Dispute


West African neighbors Nigeria and Cameroon have agreed to settle their long-standing border dispute over the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula. The deal was brokered by the United Nations, and signed in New York.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Cameroonian President Paul Biya signed the agreement Monday at an estate outside New York City. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan brokered the deal, and was on hand for the ceremony.

The deal calls for Nigeria to withdraw from a 1,000 square kilometer swampy coastal region known as the Bakassi peninsula. The International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled in 2002 that the potentially oil-rich peninsula belongs to Cameroon.

Nigeria was to have withdrawn two years ago, but did not.

Secretary-General Annan hailed the agreement, calling it an inspiring example for Africa.

"On a continent with an abundance of conflicts, their decision was ultimately a victory for rule of law and for the idea that differences can be resolved peacefully," said Kofi Annan.

Mr. Annan, himself a West African, said the peaceful settlement stands in stark contrast to other places in Africa where conflicts are killing untold thousands and destroying prospects for economic development. As an example, he pointed to the dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

"If you compare the way this process has been handled with our efforts to demarcate the Eritrea - Ethiopia border, where the international community has to date spent $1.2 billion, not to mention what the two countries themselves have spent on war which has killed thousands and thousands of people and destroyed lots of property, and yet not a single kilometer has been demarcated, I think the contrast is telling," he said.

Mr. Annan said Nigeria had agreed to withdraw its troops within 60 days. If necessary, however, the secretary-general is authorized to grant a 30-day extension.

Nigeria's President Obasanjo hailed the agreement as the culmination of years of fruitful contacts. He said it should serve as a model for the rest of Africa.

"The agreement signed today which marks a climax in the series of agreements we have concluded and implemented is a clear demonstration that where there exists good will and equal commitment to peaceful resolution between two parties to a dispute, a happy and equitable solution can always be found," said Olusegun Obasanjo.

Cameroonian President Biya called the agreement "an effective instrument" for settling the Bakassi peninsula dispute.

The peninsula has been the subject of at times violent disputes between the two countries for decades. As recently as last year, clashes claimed the lives of two Cameroonian soldiers.

The Nigerian and Cameroonian leaders held extensive discussions over the past few days under U.N. auspices at the Greentree Estate in Manhasset, New York, a short distance from New York City.