Guyana proposes joint utilisation of disputed area
- guarded optimism as meetings open

By Sharief Khan

Guyana Chronicle
June 14, 2000

GUYANA yesterday moved into a fresh round of scheduled meetings on resolving a territorial row with Suriname proposing joint utilisation of the potentially oil-rich disputed offshore territory for the mutual benefit of the two countries.

Ministers from the two countries renewed talks at the Herdmanston House on Lamaha Street, Georgetown in an atmosphere of guarded optimism.

The territorial dispute flared two Saturdays ago when Surinamese patrol boats evicted an American oil rig from an offshore oil concession in the Atlantic Ocean awarded by Guyana to the Canadian CGX firm.

"It's good to continue diplomatic talks", Suriname Natural Resources Minister, Mr Errol Alibux told reporters.

Asked if he shared the optimism about progress by Guyana's Foreign Minister, Mr Clement Rohee, he said, "I think so."

"We'll try to make the best out of it in a most friendly way", he said, responding to a question about whether the groundwork had been laid for progress.

Alibux flew here with Foreign Minister, Mr Errol Snijders and other delegation members and were met at Herdmanston House by Rohee.

This round of talks due to end today will be followed by another meeting Saturday and Sunday in Suriname's capital Paramaribo.

The two sides first met last week on neutral ground in Trinidad.

Rohee said Guyana was looking at joint exploration and exploitation of the disputed offshore area.

"It's only natural that both sides seek to exploit in a united way...the resources that are there and share them among themselves until a final determination is reached in respect of the border dispute", he said.

Toronto-based CGX Energy Inc believes the area has two giant oil fields, as big as recent finds off the coasts of Brazil, Angola and Nigeria.

It has towed the rig to a safe distance outside the disputed area but is eager to start drilling as soon as possible due to the high cost - about

US$80,000 a day - of keeping it on standby.

Both sides, Rohee added, would benefit from "joint utilisation of resources in the area of dispute. What's in it for Guyana is also in it for Suriname and that is the approach we are taking".

Rohee has said that Guyana wanted Suriname to allow the oil rig to return to its original site, maintaining that it was in Guyana's territorial waters when it was forced out by Suriname gunboats.

Suriname claims the drill was in its territory.

The ministers from both sides left after the opening session at which Rohee said they laid the "political framework for the negotiating team to begin their work".

"The ministers are in the wings waiting to be consulted", he said from his office last night.

The Guyana Foreign Minister told the Chronicle he felt the opening session "went very well", maintaining his earlier optimism.

"A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since we met in Trinidad", he told Surinamese and local reporters before the meeting got under way.

He felt the "way is now open for further progress in the search for a mutually acceptable solution to the problem."

Former Foreign Minister, Mr Rashleigh Jackson has been included in the Guyana side for the talks and he too is looking forward to a "successful conclusion".

Rohee said the Guyana position was "very clear - the rig should return unhindered to its original site".

He said his optimism about the talks is "grounded in the strength, maturity and reasonableness of our position. We have no doubt that our position is based on law and equity."

Advancing the proposed joint exploration/exploitation of the disputed territory, he argued, "if our position is based on law and equity, there is a basis for mutuality in the resolution and in the sharing of resources".

Where both sides are staking a claim in the area in dispute, "it is only natural that both sides seek to exploit in a united way, through whatever way is possible, the resources that are there and share them among themselves until a final determination is reached in respect of the border dispute", Rohee said.

He told the Chronicle Monday, "we would wish to have a regime developed based on a formal submission we made to the Suriname delegation while in Trinidad and Tobago; and that submission is based on a 1991 formula that was arrived at by the then governments of Guyana and Suriname to have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would facilitate the unhindered return of a rig to point X and to have the modalities attached to that MOU, treating with the joint exploitation and exploration of the resources in the area that is in dispute right now offshore of Guyana and Suriname."

** Minister Rohee last night said Guyana wants to put in place "appropriate modalities for ensuring that arrangements satisfactory and beneficial to both countries are reached."

** "We will also be proposing that the concession already granted to CGX within the area should not be disturbed but situated in the context of the Memorandum of Understanding as proposed by Guyana in Trinidad", he said last night.

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