Nigeria has begun withdrawing its troops from the disputed Bakassi peninsula ahead of a United Nations-brokered deadline agreed with Cameroon.
About 3,000 Nigerian soldiers are to be pulled out of the disputed peninsula by Monday. The leaders of Nigeria and Cameroon endorsed a deal brokered by the United Nations last June, to withdraw Nigerian troops from the region within 60 days.
A formal handover ceremony to mark the end of the troops withdrawal is scheduled for next week.
"The withdrawal has started and we have started pulling out our troops and we are going to invite correspondents to witness the handover, which is coming up by next week," said Brigadier General Felix Chukwuma, the defense spokesman.
The International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled in 2002 that Cameroon had sovereignty over the peninsula. Most of the population of the peninsula, who are Nigerians, have been given the option of staying under Cameroon authority or being resettled in Nigeria.
Some residents have rejected the offer and had vowed to resist the handover. Nigeria is expected to complete the process of handing of Bakassi within two years. General Chukwuma says until then, Nigeria will exercise civil authority over the oil-rich territory.
"According to the agreement, the police will not have to move out. The police will move out after two years," he noted. "It is the military presence that will get out. If you check the agreement, you will know that the civil government that will be there, they will still operate under Nigerian law until after two years they will now revert to Cameroonian law."
An Abuja court will this week determine a legal challenge to the proposed handover. Some residents have asked the court to declare the transfer of sovereignty as illegal and a violation of the Nigerian constitution. A Bakassi group last Sunday declared independence and may have set the stage for a direct confrontation with the federal authorities.
The dispute over ownership of the peninsula brought the neighbors close to war in the 1980s.