Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Nigeria, Cameroon request international funding to finalise border demarcation

The governments of Cameroon and Nigeria have requested international assistance to fund the final demarcation of their border.

The border demarcation has been overseen by the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission since 2002 after a ruling by the International Court of Justice which ended years of sporadic clashes over the poorly marked border.

The ICJ ruling gave ownership of the Bakassi Peninsula, the focal point of much of the tension and a potentially rich source of oil, from Nigeria to Cameroon. The ruling was based on myriad colonial-era documents, including correspondence between British and German colonists and treaties between the imperial powers and local rulers. Nigeria protested the ruling but eventually began a two-year phased withdrawal in 2006.

The two sides made their request for further international funding at a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. Ban called the meeting, with Cameroon's Deputy Justice Minister Maurice Kamto and Nigeria's Justice Minister Mohammed Bello Adoke, to push the sides towards a final demarcation of the border by 2012, the tenth anniversary of the ICJ ruling.

Considerable progress has been since 2002. Authority in Bakassi has been transferred from Nigeria to Cameroon; the maritime boundary has been agreed upon; and around 1700km of land border have been demarcated.

The two sides are now looking for the final funding for the border demarcation, and have also pledged to begin winding up the activities of the Mixed Commission.

Sources: AFP, UN News Center

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Sudan refuses border demarcation as risk of confrontation grows

The Sudanese government has turned down an African Union proposal for a new round of negotiations with South Sudan, as military tensions along their disputed border rise sharply.

On 15th November, a South Sudanese minister complained that Khartoum has suspended the talks, which were being held under the auspices of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), chaired by former South African leader Thabo Mbeki. AUHIP talks have been struggling on for two years, but have failed to make progress on key issues such as border demarcation and oil sharing.

The suspension of talks comes at a critical time in relations between Sudan and South Sudan, which formally seceded in July. Rebels linked to Juba's ruling Sudan Liberation People's Movement, operating in border states within Sudanese territory, have intensified their battle against the Sudanese military.

According to local NGOs, Khartoum has responded with a major bombing campaign against border regions. There have been persistent accusations that it has launched airstrikes against refugee camps, including one across the border with South Sudan. Oxfam has pulled out its staff in response to the violence. The Sudanese military has also allegedly boosted its military presence near the boundary, with refurbished airfields and greater deployments of armoured forces.

The military build-up has provoked fears of a new war. South Sudanese president Salva Kiir has warned that Khartoum is seeking to invade South Sudan and steal its oilfields. Sudan's leader Omar al-Bashir, for his part, has said that he is ready for conflict if Juba provokes it.

Although a full-blown military conflict remains unlikely, the harsh rhetoric makes it more difficult for the two sides to demarcate the border, agree on oil-sharing, and prevent cross-border cattle raids which have killed hundreds. The AUHIP does not seem to have the political clout needed to calm tensions and push both sides into a compromise.

Sources: Sudan Tribune, AFP

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Congolese soldiers detained at Tanzanian port

The Tanzanian army has detained more than 20 soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo after they crossed the border into Tanzania.

According to the Tanzanian military, the soldiers, travelling in a boat, landed at the port of Kigoma on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, which borders both countries. They claimed that they were pursuing rebels who had fled into Tanzania to seek medical treatment.

The soldiers were heavily armed with machine guns and rocket launchers, provoking anger among the Tanzanian soldiers who detained them. One of the Tanzanian officers said that “we might as well regard this as an invasion”. The Congolese soldiers have been detained and may be charged with illegally entering the country.

The incident is unlikely to spiral into a diplomatic row but it has refocused attention on the porous and often unstable border region around Tanzania, DRC and Burundi. The confused fighting in eastern DRC between militia groups, criminals and loosely organised government forces has caused thousands of refugees to flee into neighbouring states, and has also pushed armed groups across the borders.

Last year Tanzanian MPs called on President Jakaya Kikwete to set up a special police zone around Kigoma after a spike in violent crime there, attributed to refugees and criminals moving in from neighbouring states. Recently a gang of robbers, believed to be from the DRC, hijacked a bus in Kigoma and rampaged through the area, killing and wounding several people before disappearing.

Tanzania may be frustrated with the influx of refugees and rebels from the DRC but has little ability to do anything about it. While the situation in the eastern DRC remains so chaotic, and the Kinshasa government so weak, the only remedy is to try and tighten controls along the border. This is so porous and poorly marked, however, that it will remain a Herculean task for the Tanzanian government.

Sources: BBC, The Citizen

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Syria cracks down on porous Lebanese border

In an effort to clamp down on safe havens and sources of weapons for the opposition, Syria's government has begun mining its porous border with Lebanon.

Lebanese witnesses living along the border have reported that the Syrian army has been planting the mines in the Wadi Khaled region. The boundary in the area is demarcated only by piles of earth, and many locals have circulated freely to visit relatives and businesses on either side of the border. Crossing the border is now extremely hazardous, and several people have been injured in recent days trying to move between Syria and Lebanon.

This is exactly what the Syrian government wants. As the uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad intensifies, Lebanon has become both a safe haven for dissidents and a source of weapons and money. Syrian forces have already staged a number of small cross-border raids onto Lebanese soil to pursue suspects.

Analysts say that weapons smuggling into Syria has boomed in recent months as the once-peaceful revolt begins to resemble an armed insurgency. Although some of the weapons are destined for renegade soldiers, many are believed to have been purchased by both pro- and anti-government citizens seeking to defend themselves.

The border situation has provoked anger among some Lebanese MPs, who accuse Syria of violating the country's sovereignty (a sensitive issue given the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon until 2005). The divided government in Beirut, however, remains largely pro-Syrian and is coordinating closely with Damascus on cracking down on smugglers. The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has boosted its forces along the eastern border with Syria.

Securing the border will be a difficult task. A retired Lebanese army general told AFP that there are over 50 illegal border crossings and shutting them all down will be extremely difficult. This is particularly true since the border is not demarcated for long stretches, and many villages straddle the two countries.

Sources; Daily Star, AFP