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Three villages exchanged in latest move to end border dispute

Map of Nigeria
Yola, in the east, is the capital of Adamawa State (IRIN )

Nigeria and Cameroon have exchanged three border villages in the second of a series of moves designed to end a territorial dispute that nearly brought the countries to war.

Officials from the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) said on Wednesday that the green and white striped flag of Nigeria had replaced the green, red and yellow of Cameroon in the villages of Bourha-Wango and Ndabakura, about 200 km south of Lake Chad, on Tuesday.

Cameroon meanwhile took ownership of the nearby village of Narki, they added.

The latest border adjustment followed Nigeria's return of 33 villages near Lake Chad to Cameroon in December 2003. Nigeria received one Cameroonian village in the area in return.

However, the hardest part of implementing a ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on disputes along the 1,600 km border has yet to come.

After initial resistance, Nigeria has agreed to hand over to Cameroon the Bakassi peninsula, a tongue of swampy forested territory that juts into the Gulf of Guinea and whose offshore waters are believed to be rich in oil.

The dispute over the Bakassi peninsula nearly brought the two countries to war in 1981 and again in the early 1990s. And although Nigeria has agreed in principle to surrender the territory to Cameroon, the maritime boundary between the two countries has yet to be demarcated.

This week's exchange of territory was overseen by Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN Special Representative for West Africa. This veteran Mauritanian diplomat chairs the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, a body set up by the United Nations to implement the ICJ's October 2002 ruling.

The Mixed Commission has set September 15 as the target date for transfering sovereignty of the peninsula to Cameroon. Nigeria’s Minister of Defence Rabiu Kwankwaso said last week plans were already afoot to withdraw troops stationed there.

However, the inhabitants of the peninsula are overwhelmingly pro-Nigerian and many of them have vowed to resist its transfer to Cameroon.

UNOWA said in a statement that the Mixed Commission would hold "discussions on the modalities for the withdrawal" from Bakassi Peninsula in the coming weeks.

Only afterwards would the commission embark on the final phase of its work, which is to delimit the maritime borders of both countries in the Gulf of Guinea, it added.

"It is the right decision at the right time and for the right reasons," Ould-Abdallah said.

"The Nigerian Presidency of the African Union and the upcoming elections in Cameroon encourage even more a speedy settlement of this old dispute."

President Paul Biya, who has ruled Cameroon since 1982, is standing for a new seven-year term in presidential elections in October against a weak and divided opposition.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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