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Friday, 15 November, 2002, 08:50 GMT
Nigeria, Cameroon discuss border row
Fishing village in Bakassi
Bakassi is inhabited by Nigerian fishermen

The leaders of Nigeria and Cameroon are due to meet on Friday in Geneva to try to resolve a dispute over a potentially oil-rich border region between their two countries.

Last month the International Court of Justice in The Hague awarded the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon, but Nigeria, whose military forces currently occupy the region, has so far not accepted the court ruling and says it will continue to defend the rights of its own citizens living in the peninsula.

The Bakassi peninsula is a tightly controlled military zone.

Nigerian troops are in effective occupation of the swampy land mass jutting out into the oil-rich waters of the Gulf of Guinea.

Apart from the soldiers, the Bakassi is home to a host of small fishing communities, most of whom consider themselves to be Nigerian.

The Nigerian Government says it will defend the rights of its citizens in Bakassi and that the international court ruling failed to take into account that most of the inhabitants are Nigerians.

But the actual border between Cameroon and Nigeria has never been clearly defined.

Military gift

A confusion of colonial boundary settlements was further complicated in the 1970s by the apparent gift of the land to Cameroon by a Nigerian military leader in appreciation for Cameroon's neutrality during the Biafran civil war.

The international court ruling was supposed to unwind this legal mess.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo
Obasanjo is in a difficult position

In a complex judgement it awarded some land along the common border to Nigeria, but the crucial Bakassi land mass went to Cameroon, creating an uproar within Nigeria and ultimately, strong criticism of the court ruling by the Nigerian Government.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo now finds himself in a very difficult position.

To accept the judgement and hand over the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon would be an embarrassing climbdown, damaging his domestic credibility ahead of elections in a few months' time.

But refusing to abide by the ruling brings into question his integrity abroad.

Mr Obasanjo's meeting with Cameroonian counterpart Paul Biya is being held under the watchful eye of the United Nations in Geneva.

Common ground appears unlikely at this stage.

The best that can be hoped for is that the dispute does not escalate on the ground and that both sides can eventually edge towards a compromise with maturity and restraint.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Dubem Onya on Focus on Africa
"Nigeria did not reject the verdict"

Key stories

YOUR VIEWS
 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

See also:

12 Nov 02 | Africa
29 Oct 02 | Africa
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