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Cameroon's newest region deserted

Fishing boats in Bakassi (Archive picture)

The BBC's Randy Joe Sa'ah describes his visit to the potentially oil-rich region of Bakassi, which has just been ceded by Nigeria to Cameroon.

Many people have fled the peninsula fearing militant attacks or a crackdown by the Cameroonian military after Thursday's handover.

There was a strange feeling walking around the deserted village huts of the Bakassi peninsula.

Although most of the thatched roofs were still there, many huts in the fishing villages had begun to fall apart.

The chief said there was still a good living to be made from fishing and people would be able to come back

The place showed signs of abandonment, with people's household rubbish strewn around.

Nature was also creeping back in and taking over the huts.

I saw many crabs scuttling around the deserted homes.

Many people left Bakassi in a hurry, told that the Cameroonian police, known as gendarmes, were coming to kick them out.

Fear

In the last year there have been many clashes between Nigerian militants from the Niger Delta, keen to frustrate the handover.

But when the handover was made on Thursday, there was a heavy Cameroonian military presence on the peninsula.

I saw many gunboats and other smaller speedboats driving around the swampy riverine peninsula.

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In Archibong, which for two years was in the Cameroonian-controlled north of the peninsula, there were still people trying to get on with their lives.

They were fishermen fixing their nets and women smoking fish.

When I returned to mainland Cameroon, I learned people had been worried fighting would start between militants and the Cameroonian military, but in Archibong it was quite relaxed.

People I spoke to in Archibong, the main town in northern Bakassi, said they were pleased the military were there.

They didn't want any violence from Nigerian militants.

I spoke to a local chief who said he was going to go around the places where people from Bakassi had fled to try and persuade them to come back.

People had been afraid because of the clashes, and the fact that the Cameroonians levelled taxes on them, something which they'd never had to pay when Bakassi was under Nigerian control.

But the chief said there was still a good living to be made from fishing there and he thought people would be able to come back.

Marijuana worries

Others said they were sad to have their home handed over to Cameroon.

Unresolved pain at Bakassi handover

They were anxious that life would not be the same under the Cameroonians as it had been under the Nigerians.

Some young men I spoke to said they were afraid the Cameroonians would stop them smoking marijuana, which they call "'Igbo".

According to them it is a necessary part of their work - they need it to get the courage to go out to sea they say.

People here are worried that the Cameroonians will change their way of life.

But watching the fishermen's canoes go past the military gunboat, it was clear they weren't interested in stopping them from going about their business.




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