Fri, Jul 16, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Cameroon arrests BBC journalists on suspicion of spying


Cameroon is holding two journalists working for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on what the West African country calls suspicions of spying in the disputed, oil-rich Bakassi peninsula.

The BBC said the two were covering the upcoming Nigerian withdrawal from the peninsula, and had been traveling with the knowledge of the Cameroon authorities. Farouk Cothia, a producer with the BBC's African service, and Ange Ngu Thomas, a local reporter working for the BBC, were detained by the military on Sunday, the BBC spokeswoman said from London, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The two remained under house arrest on Wednesday in Cameroon's Atlantic coast town of Limbe, she said.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists protested the detentions.

"Our colleagues Farouk Cho-thia and Ange Ngu Thomas should be released immediately," executive director Ann Cooper said in a statement. "Journalists should be allowed to report freely in Bakassi in the run-up to the handover."

Bakassi, a heavily militarized, petroleum-rich peninsula, has been the subject of deadly territorial battles between Cameroon and neighboring Nigeria. Nigeria is to withdraw from the peninsula in coming months under a 2002 international court ruling.

"What did they go to do in Bakassi? They were there as spies," Jean Paul Mbiya, a Cameroon Communications Ministry official, insisted on Wednesday.

Mbiya acknowledged that the two had government permission to report in Cameroon, but said that did not extend to Bakassi, which is still under military control.

Mbiya claimed the two "were caught taking pictures of military installations, which, like in every other country, is strategic."

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