Montego Bay talks extended further
- venue shifts to Kingston

From Sharief Khan in Montego Bay
Guyana Chronicle
July 17, 2000

ANOTHER day, another venue, the talks go on.

After another round of talks stretching into the early hours of yesterday morning and continuing into late afternoon, Guyana and Suriname will be moving from this tourist resort coast to the Jamaica capital today still looking for agreement on the border dispute that has chilled relations between them.

The search for a resolution started last month in Trinidad and Tobago, shifted to Georgetown, to the Suriname capital Paramaribo, moving this month to the luxury tourist resort island of Canouan in St Vincent and the Grenadines, to Montego Bay and now Kingston.

No agreement was reached on a proposed memorandum of understanding mediator Prime Minister P.J. Patterson of Jamaica was hoping could have been signed by last night, sources told the Chronicle.

Foreign Minister Clement Rohee and a team of close advisers are to fly from here to Kingston just after lunch today for a meeting with Patterson at his official residence, Jamaica House.

The sources said the Suriname team that stayed here for the extended talks is also to be at that meeting.

Details were not available on the sticking points but it is clear that the two countries are finding it hard to reach agreement on the return of the CGX oil rig to the offshore zone from which it was forced out last month.

That triggered the latest border row that has soured relations between the two neighbours.

As he was leaving Montego Bay yesterday morning for an official engagement in Trinidad and Tobago, President Bharrat Jagdeo told Guyanese reporters there were still difficulties in reaching an agreement.

"We have had difficulties", he confirmed, adding that up to that point the two sides had not been able to agree on the memorandum of understanding.

The Montego Bay round of talks, scheduled to end Saturday, was extended into yesterday as host Prime Minister Patterson tried to clinch an agreement.

Suriname President Jules Wijdenbosch and his delegation planned leaving early Saturday afternoon without reaching an agreement but Patterson indicated he was intent on getting something definite from the encounter at the plush Half Moon Golf, Tennis and Beach Club.

Throughout yesterday, Rohee, Ambassadors Elisabeth Harper, Rudy Collins and consultant Dr Barton Scotland continued the negotiations with Patterson's facilitating team of Solicitor General, Dr Kenneth Rattray, Foreign Trade Minister, Mr Anthony Hylton and High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago, Mr Lorne McDonnaugh shuttling between the two sides.

Just before 1600 hrs (4 p.m.) Jamaica time, the Guyana side left their hotel villa for a briefing with Patterson, still with no firm indication that an agreement was at hand.

Patterson Saturday night reported movement on the process to settle the longstanding territorial dispute between the two countries (involving the Corentyne River and the New River Triangle in south east Guyana) and the maritime boundaries.

But there was no word on the return of the CGX rig to the Eagle site from which Suriname gunboats evicted it on June 3.

Patterson was mandated by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to be facilitator of the talks between the two countries and the discussions began Friday in this Jamaica tourist city on the north coast.

By Saturday night, he was able to announce the two countries were close to agreeing on getting a border commission going to finally resolve the age-old territorial border row and the maritime boundaries.

Patterson said the issues that had to be resolved here were identified Friday and by late Saturday the talks had reached the stage where "we now have a draft text and we hope to be able to finalise that within the next 24 hours."

He said that based on the discussions between Friday and Saturday, "we have been able to draft a memorandum of understanding that, apart from any question of an agreement between the parties, needs to be reflected in a certain form, and we wanted to ensure that we had in place things that were workable to give effect to the agreement."

In particular, he said, questions of the composition of the border commission that would enable the work to proceed on both fronts "were matters to which we gave urgent consideration."

Patterson said "certain matters" related to both issues "require legal refinement and very careful textual consideration".

As a result, both Presidents agreed to use the meeting here to "bring these two matters to finality insofar as the processes and procedures are concerned", he reported.

Sources said Wijdenbosch had planned on leaving a low-level team, headed by Suriname Ambassador to Guyana, Dr Humphrey Hasrat, behind to continue the talks but Patterson did not agree.

The Jamaica Prime Minister afterwards reported that Suriname Foreign Minister Errol Snijders and a "competent group" were staying back to finalise the memorandum of understanding with the Guyana side headed by Rohee.

President Jagdeo cancelled plans to leave Montego Bay Saturday night and remained behind to be involved in the extended negotiations.

The priority issue of the return of the Canadian CGX oil rig at the centre of the fresh territorial row that flared June 3 was addressed from around 2030 hrs (8:30 p.m.) Jamaica time Saturday until about 3:30 hrs (a.m.) yesterday.

Guyana has been trying to settle conditions under which the CGX Energy Inc. rig can return to drill in the potentially giant Eagle oilfield from which Suriname gunboats evicted it.

CGX said last week that its rig will be sent out of the region if no decision was reached by Saturday on its return to the site in the concession the firm was awarded by the Guyana Government in 1998.

CGX President Kerry Sully, here awaiting the outcome of the talks, indicated yesterday that that plan was still in train.

CARICOM appointed Patterson facilitator for the talks between President Jagdeo and Wijdenbosch at their summit on the St Vincent and Grenadines tourist resort island of Canouan earlier this month.

Others in the Guyana delegation here were former Foreign Minister Rashleigh Jackson, Head of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, Mr Brian Sucre and Lands and Surveys Commissioner, Mr A.K. Datadin.

CGX believes Eagle is one of two world class giant oilfields in its 15,464 square kilometre concession.

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