CARICOM facilitator crucial to Jamaica talks

by Sharief Khan
Guyana Chronicle
July 7, 2000

PRESIDENT Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday said no face-to-face talks were possible with outgoing Suriname President Jules Wijdenbosch without the presence of a facilitator from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

"Had we not had the conference agree to that (having a facilitator), Guyana would not have met Suriname at a bilateral level, because we still have fears about the mandate of the current President to conclude any agreement", he told the Chronicle as he was leaving the Grenadine island of Canouan after the 21st CARICOM summit there.

Mr Jagdeo was among other heads of government flying home yesterday after the summit ended Wednesday night on the picturesque tourist resort island in the St Vincent and Grenadines chain.

The Guyana President left the summit with an agreement to meet Wijdenbosch again within seven days in Jamaica to try to reach agreement on the return of the CGX oil rig to the offshore zone from which it was evicted June 3 by Suriname gunboats, and recent related issues.

"I was pleased that we settled on a meeting - not a bilateral meeting but with a CARICOM facilitator there", Mr Jagdeo said.

Jamaica Prime Minister, Mr P.J Patterson, facilitator in two bilateral sessions between President Jagdeo and Wijdenbosch during the four-day summit, continues in the role for the next scheduled round in Jamaica.

"I was pleased that he (Wijdenbosch) himself said he has a mandate and he said that publicly...I am looking forward to Jamaica to the resolution of the issue and the return to normalcy", he said.

The Suriname President, who is due to leave office later this month after losing general elections in May this year, Wednesday night told reporters he was sure that within the seven days for the meeting, he will have all the information needed for the talks in Jamaica.

His Natural Resources Minister, Mr Errol Alibux, leader of the Suriname team at three rounds of ministerial talks with Guyana which ended in failure in Paramaribo last month, said Wijdenbosch "is fully in charge (and) has all the mandates" up to the moment he hands over to his successor.

But with a new government set to take over in the former Dutch colony, Wijdenbosch has to inform them and other constitutional bodies prior to an agreement, Alibux said.

At a news briefing Wednesday night when he announced the talks are to continue in Jamaica, Mr Jagdeo said difficulties arose during the negotiations that dominated media attention at the summit.

The Surinamese side, he said, pointed out that there were "some other complications" arising from the remaining short life of the Wijdenbosch government.

At the news conference with him were Foreign Minister Clement Rohee and Ambassador Rudy Collins, critical players in the border dispute talks since the June 3 flare-up.

The gunboat eviction of the rig the Canadian CGX Energy Inc firm contracted to drill in the concession it got from the Guyana Government in 1998, triggered charges of hostility from Guyana and relations between the two countries have since soured.

According to President Jagdeo, the Surinamese in the Canouan talks said they "needed to include other people since a new government would be taking over shortly and they needed them to be comfortable on this matter (and) they did not come with a mandate to the Heads of Government meeting to reach an agreement here."

After two bilateral rounds with Patterson as facilitator, Mr Jagdeo said Wijdenbosch requested another bilateral meeting.

"My question directed to him (was) `If you do not have a mandate at this point in time to settle the issue at the Heads of Government meeting, would you have a mandate when we meet bilaterally?'"

"He assured me that he would come prepared to reach an agreement if necessary", he said, adding that on the basis of that assurance, "I agreed to meet at a bilateral level, provided there was a facilitator".

Mr Jagdeo said he requested that Patterson continue as facilitator, "so that we will not have the situation many of you in the press have been accustomed to over the last couple of months (when we were) discussing, discussing issues...approaching a settlement and suddenly all the proposals on the table (were) withdrawn."

"...the presence of a third party, a facilitator, would help us to reach a definitive agreement. I am quite pleased with that outcome", he said.

"I think this sets the tone, hopefully, for some definitive resolution of the matter".

The Guyana President said he was "very worried about having bilateral meetings without the presence of a facilitator or without a CARICOM presence because history has shown since the affair started, and the history of all the discussions we have had show that we had these difficulties."

"Proposals were put on the table, proposals were withdrawn from the table without any reason whatsoever and a CARICOM presence there - the presence of the Prime Minister of Jamaica will hopefully bring an end to this practice and I think if that happens we can pave the way for a successful agreement", he said.

He noted that when the ministerial talks finally failed in the Suriname capital Paramaribo where the Guyana proposals now included in the statement coming out of the summit were ignored, a third party was not present. Mr Jagdeo stressed that the scheduled Jamaica round, with Patterson as facilitator, was "substantially different than what we (have) had in the meetings that have taken place between the two sides thus far".

He said Wijdenbosch advised "he did not have the discussions that were needed before he came to this meeting to form the agreement and I suspect that is what is meant by the mandate - discussions with various groups."

"I am hoping that by the time we meet in Jamaica, those discussions would be held and there is a possibility that they will be held with the incoming government too and that would constitute the mandate, but I am just speculating", he explained.

"My that if we had that meeting at the bilateral level without a third party being present, the fate of that meeting would not have been any different from the fate of the other meetings that we have had prior to that - that was my fear and that was why I wrote CARICOM asking that the matter be put on the agenda", he said.

President Jagdeo reiterated that the return of the rig to the Eagle site is not only for the benefit of Guyana.

"Both countries would benefit from the resources in that area because our proposal was and is that we jointly utilise the resources in the area for the benefit of both countries", he said.

CGX believes the Eagle site is a potential world class giant oil field with a deposit of more than 800 million barrels.

After it was forced out from the target by the Suriname navy, the rig began drilling at the secondary Horseshoe site in the concession zone.

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