Equatorial - Guinea - Gabon: Neighbours to explore jointly for oil in disputed waters.

The leaders of Equatorial Guinea and Gabon have pledged to explore jointly for oil in disputed offshore waters while their quarrel over three small islands in Corisco Bay is settled by UN mediation.

Presidents Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea and Omar Bongo of Gabon made the announcement on Tuesday after signing a memorandum of understanding in the presence of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa.

The two West African leaders told journalists afterwards that in a bid to fight poverty in their countries, they had put aside their simmering disagreement over the Corisco Bay islands. These lie just north of the Gabonese capital Libreville near the border with the continental territory of Equatorial Guinea.

The dispute dates back to 1972 and has prevented oil companies from carrying out a full exploration of the surrounding offshore waters.

Although both countries have agreed to joint exploration, the issues over sovereignty of their maritime boundaries will still have to be resolved. The leaders said mediation would continue to delimit and then demarcate the territory.

"We need to solve this conflict so we have no further problems between us," Obiang said

"The main problems are the resources of the sub-soil, the oil. We have to solve this problem of the resources in a very positive fashion," he added. "The most important question here is how to fight against poverty with the resources both states have, how can we better use these resources to fight against poverty."

Welcoming the commitment of both leaders to resolve the dispute peacefully, Annan said: "This is a continent with lots of conflicts and I think this is an example to all the leaders that differences can be resolved peacefully," he said.

Gabon and Equatorial Guinea had appealed to the UN in 2003 to help resolve their dispute, which arose from different interpretations of maps dating back to 1900.

Annan has appointed Yves Fortier, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, as his Special Adviser and mediator on the issue.

Both countries have enjoyed the oil bonanza of the past decade.

Gabon, whose oilfields are mainly operated by the French multinational Total, is a mature oil producer with an output of 250,000 barrels per day that is currently declining. But Equatorial Guinea, which only discovered oil in 1995, is expanding its offshore oil and gas production rapidly and has overtaken Gabon, with a daily output of around 350,000 barrels.

According to the Bank of Central African States (BEAC), which manages the CFA franc currency, used by both countries, Equatorial Guinea has also jumped ahead of Gabon in terms of national prosperity. Its 500,000 people now enjoy a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita income of nearly US$7,000.

Gabon's 1.2 million inhabitants have a GDP per capita of less than $5,000 -- although that is still 10 times the average for Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Corisco Bay dispute is the latest of several border quarrels to arise in Africa, where hopes of finding oil have encouraged both sides to dig in their heels.

Nigeria has been arguing with Cameroon for years over the disputed Bakassi peninsula, which is also thought to control oil-rich offshore waters. Nigeria has agreed in principle to hand over the peninsula, but the two countries have yet to demarcate their territorial waters.

[Source: IRIN News, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Addis Ababa, 07Jul04]

Tienda de Libros Radio Nizkor On-Line Donations

small logoThis document has been published on 31Aug04 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights.