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Hostages allegedly traded for prisoners

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-13

The seven French nationals and one Tunisian captured from a ship off the coast of Cameroon's Bakassi region have landed in Paris. They were swapped with Cameroon-held prisoners, according to sources quoted by AFP.

 
Cameroon released several political prisoners in exchange for 10 hostages, including seven French oil-workers, freed by a rebel group, several sources said Wednesday.

"The 10 hostages have been exchanged for 13 prisoners held by Cameroon," a rebel source told AFP. Another source close to the case said prisoners had been traded for the hostages, but did not give a number.

Both Cameroon and France have denied making a deal with the Bakassi Freedom Fighters (BFF).

The rebels seized the oil workers -- seven French nationals, one Tunisian and two Cameroonians -- from a ship operated by the French company Bourbon off the coast of Cameroon's Bakassi Peninsula on October 31.

The BFF says it represents the people of Bakassi, a territory recently taken over by Cameroon after a legal battle with Nigeria.

One of the hostage-takers, who identified himself as "major" Ebi Dari, said the exchange took place at sea Tuesday.

"It was at sea. On a boat. I saw the boat. I went up to it. They gave me their prisoners, and I gave them mine. And then we left. Everything went very smoothly. No problems at all," he said by telephone.

"There were Cameroonian officials and two white men on board. At least one of them was French," he said.

The Bakassi peninsula is a 1,000-square-kilometre (400-square-mile) strip of coastal swamp jutting out from the Cameroon-Nigeria border into the oil-rich waters of the Gulf of Guinea.

Ownership of the area had not been clear since the colonial era, and in 1993 Nigerian troops occupied much of the zone and set up a local administration.

Cameroon took its claim to the International Court of Justice in March 1994, starting a long legal battle that ended in October 2002, when the court -- the main judicial organ of the United Nations -- awarded it sovereignty.

Nigeria did not dispute the judgment and, after a period of border demarcation punctuated by occasional deadly skirmishes, it ceded control in August this year, to the dismay of many local communities.

Dari said the Cameroonian prisoners had been arrested earlier this year. "They are fishermen of Bakassi arrested because of document problems," he said, but refused to go into details.
 

Date created : 2008-11-13