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SIGNIFICANT LAND DISPUTES
 


By Yemi Soneye

Friday, July 29, 2011

Last April, neighbours Thailand and Cambodia killed scores of each other over the lands surrounding the Preah Vihear temple, a UNESCO world heritage site. The incident was reported by Reuters news agency as “Southeast Asia’s bloodiest border dispute in years.” Unfortunately still, like past attempts to resolve the over fifty years old dispute, the talks set up and mediated by Indonesia between the two countries at the May summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) failed flatly. Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia and the outgoing Prime Minister of Thailand, Abhisit Vejjajiva refused to shift their grounds.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel also refused the suggestion of President Barrack Obama of the United States that Israel returns to its pre-1967 territories in May as a major gesture of peace. - the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights lands that were taken by Israel in the 1967 Six Days War with neighbouring Arab countries of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Netanyahu's argument is these territories  are returned before Hamas' acceptance of Israel’s right to exist would leave Israel defenseless.

Sudan, one of the utter failures that came out of the notorious late 1800s scramble for Africa, was split into two countries on July 9, when Southern Sudan became the world's newest nation . But Sudan is now  terrorising its new southern neighbour. One of the main reasons for this is that the oil-rich land of Abyei that  lies between the two countries was not factored in the 2005 ceasefire agreement between the Northern Sudan government and Southern Sudan rebels, and this has caused rounds of gunfire exchanges between the two sides, a development that gravely threatens the future and stability of the two countries that now exist in the place of Sudan. The war-weary people of Northern and Southern Sudan must be wandering why it seems that they have been, in the words of Thomas Malthus in An Essay On The Principle Of Population, “condemned to a perpetual oscillation between happiness and misery and after every effort remain still at an immeasurable distance from the wished-for goal.”


The land disputes between Thailand and Cambodia, Israel and Palestine and Northern and Southern Sudan may just be permanently impossible to resolve bearing in mind the numerous peace initiatives by individuals, groups and international agencies  have brokered over the years, and the constant rejections of suggested concessions by the disputing parties.

Land bears financial, social and well, unfortunately and fortunately, huge emotional significance. The holding of land and the yearning to hold it eats deep into the existence of every man. To hold it, some men are driven to strife and some to hard work. Okonkwo, the central character of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, who had the misfortune of a sybaritic and consequently poor father, got his farming lands, and a major symbol of wealth, from dints of hard work.

Land, like money and other instruments of wealth, is bound to be in constant change of ownership. Feudal lords have found the currency of land they used to hold solely passed on to serfs in their lifetimes.  Sometimes however, and this is when the strife music plays, the significance of, even, a small area of land, would be so great to a man that nothing would be sufficient to make him exchange its ownership. In the cited land disputes,  lands bear significances of religion emblem, nations’ identification, and huge source of wealth. The sentiment over land ownership often burn strongly and the many owner(s) of the lands are seemingly bent on shedding their lives to repel perceived incursions.

It is not every land dispute that will be ‘resolved’ as peacefully as the Nigeria-Cameroun dispute over Bakassi Peninsula, a former Nigerian territory that was awarded to Cameroun by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2002, and which Nigeria finally withdrew from in 2008 despite an order of a Nigerian Federal High Court as against this. In 1962, the ICJ awarded the lands surrounding the Preah Vihear temple to Cambodia but that has been largely unbinding on the Thailand-Cambodia dispute. The Nigerian act cannot be preached in the above situations.

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