Press Releases

    SG/SM/9143
    6 February 2004

    Transcript of Press Conference with UN Secretary-General and Presidents of Cameroon, Nigeria, Held at Palais des Nations, Geneva, 31 January

     NEW YORK, 5 February (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the bilingual transcript of the stake-out with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, President Paul Biya of Cameroon, and President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, held 31 January at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

    The Secretary-General: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. This third Summit, which was held in a cordial and constructive atmosphere, reviewed the progress achieved so far by Cameroon and Nigeria in the implementation of the 10 October 2002 ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the land and maritime boundary between the two countries.  The meeting also examined the remaining tasks within the mandate of the Mixed Commission.

    I commended both President Biya and President Obasanjo for their leadership and renewed commitment for pursuing peaceful ways for the settlement of their boundary issues. I also expressed my appreciation for the support they have extended to the Mixed Commission.

    We welcomed in particular the adoption of a comprehensive work plan until 2005 and the effective and smooth withdrawals of civilian administration, military and police forces and transfers of authority in the Lake Chad area which took place last December.

    I noted that the progress achieved so far had proven that neighbouring States can, with minimum help from the United Nations, work together to prevent border-related conflict and settle their differences peacefully.

    Presidents Biya and Obasanjo agreed to strengthen confidence-building measures through an exchange of ambassadors, the opening of consular services along their common border and the introduction of joint patrols of security forces.

    The two Presidents also agreed to consider a treaty of friendship and non-aggression between their two countries.

    Presidents Biya and Obasanjo also renewed their commitment to take appropriate measures to guarantee the security and welfare of the populations affected by the Court’s decision in areas under their respective sovereignty.

    I reiterated my appeal to the international community to support the efforts being made by the two countries, in particular by providing financial assistance for the demarcation process, as well as implementation of confidence-building measures.

    We have agreed to meet again in due course to review the ongoing process.

    And we have also issued a communiqué which I understand you have received already.  Perhaps the Presidents want to make some comments before we take your questions.

    President Biya:  Ladies and gentlemen, I would simply like to take this opportunity to thank the Secretary-General for his initiative to invite President Obasanjo and myself to this meeting in Geneva, which allowed us to review the process of normalizing relations between our two countries.  I also want to thank President Obasanjo for his determination to ensure that the measures decided upon are implemented.  We believe that continuing along this path will lead to a complete normalization of the situation.  This is what I had to say.

    President Obasanjo:  I just want to generally endorse the statement made by the Secretary-General and also to thank him because he initiated this process.  We have [inaudible] this process, of course, without petitioning the legality.  We have adopted bilateral dialogue, negotiating, under the auspices of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General.  I also want to take this opportunity to thank President Paul Biya who has shown great statesmanship in all this matter.  The success we have achieved so far must be accredited to the Secretary-General, the initiator, President Paul Biya, who had been a good collaborator and all the members of our Mixed Commission under the chairmanship of the Secretary-General’s Representative.

    And I particularly want to endorse the call for support.  Normally, it seems to be easier for the world to support open values and conflicts than quiet skilful resolution.  We would just say that, yes, we are, of course, bending down to carry our load providing some of the resources, but we need a helping hand, and that’s what the Secretary-General is saying; a helping hand in the area of confidence-building measures, a helping hand in ensuring that along our border we can move freely and we can provide the infrastructure which will also strengthen cooperation and collaboration, and a helping hand in the operation of the Mixed Commission itself.  Because we have a programme [inaudible], a programme that takes the Mixed Commission to the end of next year.  We need funds.  Now we hope we will be able to have support.  We are going to be in the forefront of providing funds, but we need support.

    The Secretary-General:  Thank you very much.  I think what the President is saying is that we should really now focus on a culture of prevention rather than reaction, and that if we can prevent conflicts and support it the way the two Presidents are doing, the world will be much better off.  And I think, for the African continent, the two leaders are showing incredible statesmanship and leadership and wisdom which I hope will be a lesson for the rest of the continent.  We do need help, and I hope those with capacity will give and give generously.  Thank you, and we will now take your questions.

    Question:  Sir, is there now complete agreement that demarcation should take place and, if so, is there any idea of the time frame, a time table, for that process?

    President Obasanjo:  The Lake Chad, which has been completed in terms of agreement, is ready for demarcation, and demarcation should take place in that area.  There are three areas left, that is what we call the land area, which is between the Lake Chad area and Bakassi, then there is the Bakassi, then there is the Maritime area.  And, of course, as one area is resolved, whatever needs to move around that area is moved, the line of demarcation takes place.

    Question:  In specific terms, what are the areas of cooperation that Cameroon or Nigeria is going to do in support of the proposed [inaudible] assisted road linking the two countries to facilitate movement of people and goods between the two countries?

    President Obasanjo:  There is a particular road which is significant, and that is the road between Abakaliki and Mamfe.  This has been, even in the colonial days, this has been a very important road linking our two countries.  That road needs to be reconstructed.  There are a couple of bridges on that road that will really need to be rebuilt and we agree this road requires attention.  Whatever effort we will make, we believe that we can also get support from international institutions, from donors, to do this.  Because what is important is for people in this area to be able to move, interact, trade, and move across the border without let or hindrance.  And they are the same people, they have lived as the same people, and they want to live as the same people.

    Question:  I would like to know if you discussed the Bakassi Peninsula and whether you, President Obasanjo, have agreed to remove your military forces from there and agree to hand over the Peninsula to Cameroon or will this be taken up at a later time?

    President Obasanjo:  I have just said to you that we have four areas.  The Mixed Commission work on an area and they report, and we implement, we move to another.  The area that they have worked on and which has been fully implemented is the Lake Chad area.  They’ll have three areas to go into, what I call the land areas, that is between Lake Chad and Bakassi, then what I call Bakassi, and then the Maritime area.  The area that has been completed, we have moved whether it’s on our side or on Cameroon’s side, we have moved administration, police and military so that we now have an area which has been satisfactorily resolved.  And we are happy on both sides.

    Question:  As far as funding the demarcation process is concerned, are there plans to increase the contribution of each country?  If so, how much money are we talking about?

    The Secretary-General:  Indeed, the issue was raised.  The two countries will increase their contributions.  But, as you have just heard, we also need the international community.  So I will ask the donor countries to make contributions to help us.  The States concerned have already paid a considerable amount of money and they will increase it.

    Question:  While we applaud the initiative of both heads of State, the impression we have is that there is no problem anywhere.  Can we be reassured that there are no misgivings, as far as Bakassi is concerned, when it comes to Cameroon and Nigeria?

    The Secretary-General:  I know given the fact that we live on a continent with lots of problems, when you hear that things are going well you get nervous and probably don’t quite accept it.  But things are going very well and we are going to press ahead, as you have heard.  A work programme has been established, an essential part of the work is done, the meetings of the Mixed Commission are going on well, and we would want to see it proceed smoothly along that route.  We do agree.  We have not encountered any difficulties, if we do, I am sure the will that is between the two leaders to surmount it and I think that is the approach that we should take.

    Question:  Shortly before the conclusion of the area around Lake Chad, there had been maybe some reports of overzealous security men molesting nationals at different times of the other countries.  What are the two Presidents going to do and how will they go about ensuring that in the areas that are yet to be demarcated, the rights of people are protected and the people and the issues of certain molestations are stopped?

    President Biya:  I am not sure if I have fully understood the meaning of your question.  We discussed the problems of the populations concerned, namely those affected by the ruling of the Court.  I have given my brother, President Obasanjo, every assurance that appropriate measures will be taken to guarantee the security and property of the populations affected; in any case, any minor issues and instances of tension may be brought before the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, which has been revitalized, for action.

    Specifically, we agreed on a number of measures to strengthen cooperation between our two countries, including the opening of consulates, contacts between governors and prefects, and joint patrols, to ensure that any problems that arise are quickly brought to our attention and settled.  We believe that we have really taken major wide-ranging initiatives that will bear fruit.

    Question:  What are the major initiatives, how much can the lack of funding affect the process?

    President Obasanjo:  The question about what kind, well you said overzealous, overzealous security men.  One can never be absolute in saying there will be no overzealous security men.  But even the way you put the question, that question before yours about overzealous security men, if the measures we are putting in place, the measures to increase and enhance confidence among our people along the border, the interaction and cooperation between governors and prefects on the other side, on both sides.  And if there is a really a very bad overzealous security man he would be disciplined.  So all that is part of it.

    The point you have made, I don’t think the lack of funds will be a problem.  We are committed.  And if we are committed, that is the first thing we need to have – commitment on our part.  And as I say, I believe that the international community will also be committed.  This is the situation.  We are, instead of always allowing things to break into violence, we are working among ourselves and trying to provide a solution.  The amount of money we are talking about, in the international arena will be regarded as peanuts, it is less than what you will need to maintain a UN force for one week in a bad area, a UN peacekeeping force.  So, if the SG appeals to the international community and says “look, this is an exemplary project, let’s support it”, I hope that it will be taken for what it is.  And the words of the UN Secretary-General, and are own words, will be believed.  After all, we have shown so far that we mean what we say and nothing will deter us from achieving success.

    The Secretary-General:  I think one should not underestimate the importance of what the President has just said.  This is a situation where the two leaders showed incredible leadership.  They met before the decision of the Court was pronounced, before the ruling came out, and they met immediately after the ruling.  Before the ruling, they met to commit themselves to cooperate and implement the decision and set up mechanisms for its implementation.  Soon after the Court, they met again and carried through and this is what has brought us here today and we are having this third meeting.  Could you imagine if they had not had the foresight and done that, and this had become a hot issue, the amount of resources the international community will be required to devote to the crises.  So, in effect less reward, good behavior too.

    Question:  Can I ask you Sir, after Iran and Libya, don’t you think it’s due time for Israel to open its country for nuclear inspection so that the region of the Middle East can move to a region free of weapons of mass destruction?

    The Secretary-General:  I think we should, I must tell you that I agree with that.  Obviously, we need to encourage countries not to arm themselves with nuclear weapons.  We have international agreements that I hope most governments will sign and ratify.  I think there are initiatives afoot and, in fact, in the Security Council resolution 687, which is sometimes called “mother of all resolutions”, there was a provision in it for attempts to ensure secure arrangements for the region.  And recently some people are talking of eventually seeing a Middle East that will agree to be a nuclear-free zone, but, of course, that’s going to take lots of work, and if that were to happen it will affect all countries in the region and it is something that we should aim for.

    * *** *