Guyana-Suriname talks on oil drill row today

Guyana Chronicle
June 6, 2000

GUYANA and Suriname are to meet in Trinidad today on the territorial dispute that flared between them over the weekend, suspending planned oil drilling by a Canadian firm in Guyana's offshore territory.

Two Surinamese navy patrol boats forced CGX Energy Inc. to remove an American-owned rig from its concession offshore Guyana after Suriname claimed the operation was taking place in its waters.

Foreign Minister Clement Rohee last night told the Chronicle he will be meeting Suriname Foreign Minister Erroll Snijders in Port-of-Spain today.

"I expect we will reach some form of resolution on the immediate question of the location of the CGX drilling rig", he said as his ministry fine-tuned arrangements for the meeting.

Guyana has called Suriname's action "intimidatory and hostile" and a "serious threat" to the lives of CGX personnel in the potentially oil-rich area. CGX said that on Saturday, at 12:45 hrs (a.m.), as it was preparing to commence drilling, two patrol boats from the Suriname navy "demanded the rig cease operations and leave the area."

"For the safety of the crew and property, later on Saturday...the rig was moved about 75 km southwest to a safe location", the company said in a press release.

CGX said it has placed the rig on standby pending the results of the discussions between the two countries.

A spokesman for the Canadian company yesterday said the crew on the rig was safe.

CGX said that for the past two years, it has conducted operations on its Corentyne concession under a licence from the Government of Guyana. The weekend action by the Surinamese was the first hostile move against the firm.

Guyana has maintained that the rig was in its territorial waters.

Rohee, who will be accompanied by a 10-member top level delegation to today's talks, said Guyana also hopes to "reach some kind of agreement with Suriname on the wider question of oil exploration concessions in the offshore area".

He also wants to "put back on track" the national border commissions between the two countries and the Guyana-Suriname Cooperation Council.

Despite the "intimidatory and hostile actions" against CGX, the Foreign Ministry in a statement Saturday said Guyana was committed to promoting friendly and good neighbourly relations with Suriname as with all its neighbours."

It expects today's meeting "will lay the basis for a constructive approach to a resolution of the current controversy and put back on track the tried and tested mechanisms for the promotion and enhancement of Guyana-Suriname relations."

Guyana's Ambassador to Suriname, Mr Karshanjee Arjun flew here yesterday from Paramaribo and will be in the delegation for the talks in Trinidad.

Other members in the Guyana team are Ambassadors Donald Abrams, Rudy Collins and Elisabeth Harper; Mr Bhowan Balkarran, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock; Colonel Chibulall Ramsaroop of the Guyana Defence Force; Mr Brian Sucre, Commissioner of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission; Mr Newell Dennison, Manager of the Petroleum Division of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission; Mr R. Jaggarnauth, Technical Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture on Lands and Dr Barton Scotland, Legal Consultant.

The last serious border incident between the two countries occurred in August 1969, when Guyanese troops evicted Surinamese soldiers from the New River Triangle in southeastern Guyana.

Shots were fired but no one as killed. The new border spat came just more than a week after Surinamese voted in general elections in which President Jules Wijdenbosch's party won just three of the National Assembly's 51 seats. A meeting of the National Assembly to elect a new president has not yet been scheduled.

CGX said the C.E. Thornton drill rig of R&B Falcon, based in Houston, Texas, under contract to CGX, arrived last Thursday at the Eagle target, which is located within the Corentyne concession.

The firm believes it has located two potentially giant oilfields in its concession.

This is the first time in seven years that a firm has reached the stage of drilling for oil here.

The estimated cost of the drill hole is US$7.3M. On arrival, the jack-up legs of the rig were to be set on the ocean floor in about 270 feet of water.

Under the drilling plan, it was expected to take 45 days to drill and case to CGX's target depth of 12,500 feet, the firm said.

A further five days are scheduled for testing if electrical well-logging of the target zone is encouraging.

CGX holds a 100 per cent interest in a 15,464 sq km (3,800,000 acre) exploration licence in Guyana.

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