YAOUNDE, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Cameroon has freed three detained marines from Equatorial Guinea in exchange for three Cameroonian fishermen seized by Equatorial Guinean soldiers in recent border incidents, a Cameroonian official said on Monday.
Naval forces based in Cameroon’s southern port of Kribi had captured the three marines from the neighbouring Gulf of Guinea state on Tuesday after three local fishermen from the Rio Campo border settlement were detained and taken away in a helicopter.
“On Saturday, the prefect received instructions from Yaounde to free the three Equatorial Guinea marines,” an aide to the prefect of the southern Ocean region told Reuters.
On Sunday, the three Cameroonian fishermen were released by authorities in Equatorial Guinea, Africa’s third largest oil producer, whose territory includes an island-based capital, Malabo, and a mainland portion that borders with Cameroon.
Cameroonian media have reported tensions mounting on the southern border following the death at sea last month of a Cameroonian fisherman, Guillaume Penda. Local villagers accused soldiers from Equatorial Guinea of killing him, but Malabo had given no explanation of the precise circumstances of his death.
“Tempers are still high here with most of the people demanding tough action from the authorities in Yaounde,” said the Cameroonian prefect’s aide, who asked not to be named.
According to Cameroonian media reports, the construction of the terminal at Kribi for a Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline had diminished inshore fishing catches in recent years, forcing local fishermen to go further out to sea.
This brought them close to Equatorial Guinean waters, where they faced harassment from the military there, the media said.
Tensions have flared in the past between the two Gulf of Guinea neighbours.
In December, 2007 hundreds of Cameroonians fled Equatorial Guinea’s mainland to escape harassment by security forces after gunmen robbed two banks and escaped in speedboats to Cameroon.
In October last year, Cameroon arrested two of its own policemen accused of kidnapping a political refugee and handing him over to Equatorial Guinea, where he faced a 30-year jail sentence for allegedly plotting a coup against President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/) (Reporting by Tansa Musa; Editing by Pascal Fletcher)
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