- The Foreign Ministers of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea have agreed to the terms of UN mediation to peacefully resolve their dispute over several small islands in the oil-rich Corisco Bay, which in turn will determine the maritime border between the two neighbours.
Meeting at UN Headquarters in New York yesterday with their new mediator, Yves Fortier, the two foreign ministers signed a communiqué outlining several procedural steps to be taken in future talks on sovereignty over the oil-rich islands of Mbanié, Coctotiers and Congas in the Corisco Bay.
Gabon and Equatorial Guinea for several years have fought over the sovereignty of these strategic and potentially oil-rich islands. While Gabon recognises Equatoguinean sovereignty over the three largest and only inhabited islands in Corisco Bay - Corisco Island, Elobey Grande and Elobay Chico - the uninhabited islets have for been a source of conflict.
These uninhabited islands of Mbanié, Coctotiers and Congas are in themselves of little interest to both countries. It is the high chance of finding more oil in Corisco Bay that first fuelled the conflict. The state owning these islands will automatically get exploration rights to much larger potentially oil-bearing offshore areas.
Relations between Malabo and Libreville have for the last decades been fluctuating between very good and almost hostile. While Cameroon has given refuge to large number of Equatoguinean fleeing the Malabo dictatorship, Gabon on several occasions has returned refugees to Equatorial Guinea, even in breach of international law.
The conflict over Corisco Bay however is said to have brought Malabo and Libreville to the brink of war at several occasions. Only last year, Equatoguinean exiles reported of mobilisations at the common border and there were speculations over a possible Gabonese invasion. Meanwhile, however, Gabonese and Equatoguinean diplomats secretly had sought a peaceful solution involving the UN.
The UN today reports that the two sides now had "pledged to spare no effort in reaching a fair and peaceful resolution of their dispute." In particular Gabon - which is running out of new potential oil fields - is now interested in starting explorations in the disputed zone. A quick settlement is therefore in Libreville's interest.
According to the UN, the mediation effort stems from July last year, when the leaders of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, President Omar Bongo and President Teodoro Obiang, had met in UN offices. President Bongo and Obiang during a meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had agreed to accept his good offices.
Mr Annan after that had named Mr Fortier, "a former Canadian Ambassador to the UN with extensive diplomatic experience," to conduct the talks, the UN informed today. Mr Fortier now is to try to find a solution to the territorial conflict as quick as possible.
The Gabonese-Equatoguinean dispute over the islands in Corisco Bay is among the last in the oil-rich inner Gulf of Guinea. Nigeria and Cameroon recently had the International Court in The Hague to settle their dispute over the Bakassi Peninsula and their maritime border. Also Nigeria and São Tomé and Príncipe have agreed on their maritime borders. More settlements are believed to be underway.
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