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Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 17:06 GMT
Nigeria ready to discuss Bakassi
President Olusegun Obasanjo
Obasanjo is facing re-election next year
President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria has said he is ready to meet his Cameroonian counterpart to resolve their dispute over the Bakassi peninsula.


For us, Bakassi is real. It is men, women and children.

President Olusegun Obasanjo
Last week, President Obasanjo denied pledging to respect a world court ruling on the disputed territory.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Obasanjo met community leaders from the oil-rich peninsula who described their talks as "very successful".

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) awarded the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon on 10 October, basing its decision on a 1917 document between colonial powers Britain and Germany.

'No sacrifice'

Although Mr Obasanjo said he was ready to meet President Paul Biya of Cameroon, he came no closer to accepting the ICJ ruling.

"We want peace, but the interests of Nigeria will not be sacrificed. It must be peace with honour, with the interest and welfare of our people protected," he said in a statement quoted by the French news AFP.

"What may be legally right may not be politically expedient," he told the delegation of Bakassi community leaders.

"For us, Bakassi is real. It is men, women and children. It is people living in their homes, on their own land... and wanting to be at peace with themselves and their neighbours."

President Biya has not reacted to Mr Obasanjo's staement.

The Cameroonian head of state returned to Yaounde on Tuesday afternoon after nearly two months abroad. He had set off on 5 September for the United Nations general assembly in New York.

'Comforted'

But representatives of the Bakassi community said they had been comforted by the way President Obasanjo answered their concerns.

"It was a very monosyllabic reply: 'We are all together,' that's all, but it says a lot," the leader of the group, Florence Ita-Giwa, told the BBC Focus on Africa programme.

Nigerian oil rig
Bakassi has large oil reserves

"We are very happy, knowing that we are not alone," she said.

"We are bona fide Nigerians, under no circumstances are we going to allow ourselves to be pushed under the bondage of gendarmes," she said, in a refence to the Cameroonian security forces.

"Rather, we'll declare a republic of Bakassi."

Clashes

Both Cameroon and Nigeria have had thousands of troops stationed in the disputed region and there have been several clashes over the peninsula. Cameroon referred the dispute to The Hague in 1994.

The United Nations had previously said that both Mr Obasanjo and his Cameroonian counterpart, Paul Biya, had agreed to respect the ICJ ruling, following a meeting with secretary general Kofi Annan.

Commenting on Nigeria's reaction, Cameroon's Information Minister Jacques Fame Ndongo told the BBC that his country believed in the United Nations system and was confident the rule of law would eventually prevail.

But Nigeria said it was wrong to use old treaties to settle the borders of independent states.

Correspondents say it would be politically difficult for Mr Obasanjo to hand Bakassi over to Cameroon, as he is standing for re-election next year.

The Bakassi peninsula is in itself a swampy strip of land with little value, but its ownership has implications for fishing and oil rights offshore.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Florence Ita-Giwa, Bakassi group leader
"We are bona fide Nigerians"
 VOTE RESULTS
Cameroon / Nigeria border ruling: Was it the right decision?

Yes
 44.91% 

No
 55.09% 

11050 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


Talking PointTALKING POINT
Border decision
Your views on the Cameroon border ruling
See also:

24 Oct 02 | Africa
10 Oct 02 | Africa
09 Oct 02 | Africa
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