- The border row over an oil-rich uninhabited island between Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, which seemed to have been solved after mediation by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2006, is again on the new UN chief's agenda.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday evening opened a high-level meeting between Equatorial Guinea and Gabon to launch the next phase of the mediation process aimed at resolving a border dispute between the neighbours. The meeting, held at UN headquarters in New York, was dedicated to the adoption of a formal framework for the mediation process, according to a statement issued by Mr Ban's spokesperson.
The maritime dispute between Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, which has its roots in colonial times but emerged in 2003, centres on the island Mbañé, which is known to have oil resources. The two countries have agreed to exploit the area jointly until the dispute is resolved.
In his remarks to the meeting, Mr Ban voiced disappointment over the fact that no solution had yet been found to the conflict. The UN chief noted that "only modest progress" has been achieved since the UN began its mediation efforts in 2003.
However, Mr Ban added that the presence of two senior delegations "underscores the commitment of your two neighbouring States to pursue peacefully the settlement" of the dispute. He said he welcomed the assurances given by both Gabonese President Omar Bongo and Equatoguinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema to a UN mission in April that they will reach a solution either through negotiated settlement or by adjudication by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Mr Ban added that he would soon appoint a Special Adviser and Mediator to assist the process, but he would also "remain personally engaged". "We are all fully aware of the challenging task ahead of us," he noted.
Mr Annan, during his leadership of the UN, gave high priority to this rather small conflict, and personally convened a mini-summit between President Bongo and President Obiang in February 2006. It was foreseen that the row would be solved within a few months, but Gabonese and Equatoguinean authorities failed to follow up on the process initiated by Mr Annan.
Negotiations came to an end as the Gabonese press in October 2006 reported authorities were in the process of "selling" the disputed island to Equatorial Guinea. As the story was built up, Gabon's Interior Minister André Mba Obame was accused of "treason" over this alleged attempt to sell the island. While the newspapers carrying these stories were closed down by authorities, further negotiations became difficult for the Gabonese government.
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