No deal was possible without oil rig decision
- Guyana considers move to UN tribunal
July 19, 2000
THE key to success at the talks in Jamaica on the border row between Guyana and Suriname over oil exploration was the return of the CGX rig to the zone from which it was evicted, President Bharrat Jagdeo confirmed yesterday.
But Guyana was not prepared to compromise on its position on the rig return just to reach an agreement, he told the Chronicle shortly after flying home from an official Monday night engagement in Trinidad and Tobago. "The key to the success of the talks was the return of the rig and Guyana was not prepared to compromise on that just for the sake of reaching an agreement or signing a memorandum of understanding", Mr Jagdeo said.
He has scheduled a news conference today on the talks in Jamaica which collapsed Monday night after being extended for two days.
Toronto-based CGX Energy Inc. yesterday said it was awaiting official notification of the failure of the talks on the rig returning to the site before announcing its position.
CGX President and Chief Executive Officer, Mr Kerry Sully last week said the rig will be sent out of the region if no decision was reached in Jamaica by Saturday but there was no announcement up to late last night.
After Suriname gunboats June 3 chased out its rig from the offshore concession it got from Guyana in 1998, the Guyana Government had enquired of CGX whether it would be willing to return to the area under Guyana military escort.
But CGX declined with spokesmen saying involving the military would jeopardise the huge insurance for the rig.
Foreign Minister Clement Rohee said in Jamaica yesterday that CGX will be leaving and could not stay here much longer with no agreement on the rig returning to the Eagle site which the Canadian company believes is one of two potential world class giant oilfields in its 15,464 square kilometre concession.
Rohee, leading the Guyana delegation at three rounds of ministerial talks with Suriname before the negotiations shifted this month to the presidential level, yesterday also suggested this country may take its case to the United Nations Law of the Sea Tribunal for a ruling.
He indicated to Jamaica Observer Editor-in-Chief Paget deFreitas that Guyana was beginning to look for other remedies, including to the Hamburg-based tribunal established by the Law of the Sea Convention.
"We have to start a big debate in our country on moving this issue to the multilateral level," Rohee said. "We have to debate whether we go to the tribunal."
However, he said Guyana looked to Jamaica Prime Minister P.J. Patterson continuing as facilitator between the two countries as agreed at the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) summit earlier this month in Canouan, St Vincent and the Grenadines.
"We see a continuing role for them as facilitators," he told deFreitas.
"Jamaica did an excellent and even-handed job of steering the talks, relying heavily on the rule of international law and equity," Rohee said.
He blamed the talks collapse on intransigence by the regime of Suriname President Jules Wijdenbosch who was in Montego Bay for the talks with Mr Jagdeo.
"Responsibility for the failure must be put squarely at the feet of the outgoing Suriname government with its entrenched, dogmatic and siege mentality," Rohee said.
Patterson, who hosted the talks which started Friday in Montego Bay, has written both Presidents expressing disappointment that the extensive discussions did not end with the signing of a memorandum of understanding.
His office, in a statement yesterday, said the Jamaica Prime Minister has suggested that each President designate a competent team "which is authorised to engage, as a matter of urgency, in discussions to settle the modalities for undertaking exploration activities in the area" in dispute.
He insisted both Presidents suggest where and how soon such a meeting would be most convenient.
The statement confirmed the CGX rig was central to an agreement after "considerable advance has been made in fashioning the process of regulation of the territorial border dispute and the determination of the maritime boundaries between both countries."
It reported that Patterson said that what remains was resolving how both sides should proceed with exploration activities within the area in dispute.
Patterson has invited Mr Jagdeo and Mr Wijdenbosch to "spare no effort in the endeavour to find accommodation on this outstanding matter."
The CARICOM facilitator said Jamaica "stands ready to offer whatever services might be useful in facilitating those discussions, as we believe it is in the interest of both countries and the Caribbean Community that there be an early resolution."
The statement said he has also advised CARICOM Chairman, Sir James Mitchell, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, on the outcome of the talks.
Sir James is monitoring the process.
The Jamaica Observer said that at the talks in Jamaica, Patterson attempted to persuade both sides to utilise the provisions of Article 74 of the Law of Sea convention that allows states with opposite or adjacent coasts and without delimitation agreements "to enter provisional arrangements of a practical nature" without prejudice to a final agreement.
Under this provision, both sides could share the resources of the disputed area until a final determination of the territorial seas and the Exclusive Economic Zones.
The newspaper said when Wijdenbosch and President Jagdeo were in Jamaica, there appeared to have been broad acceptance of this principle, including a proposal for the establishment of a Suriname/Guyana Border Commission to grant licence and manage the resources of the disputed area.
But when Wijdenbosch left the island Saturday evening the Surinamese apparently retreated from most of the earlier agreements, forcing Patterson to move the negotiations into a third, and then a fourth day.
"The two countries were unable to come up with a form of words that would satisfy both sides about how to handle the licensing regime for (oil) exploration in the disputed area," a source in Patterson's office told the Reuters news agency yesterday.
The Jamaica source told Reuters that Guyana was interested in a formula that would allow the rig to resume exploration.
"Suriname's view on the other hand was that this was not necessary because they felt that the document (a draft memorandum of understanding) had clauses in it which would permit further discussions on the conditions for a resumption of oil exploration in the disputed area," the source said.
Officials in Kingston said they had been optimistic up to late Monday evening that the outstanding issues would be resolved in time for the foreign ministers of Guyana and Suriname to sign the memorandum of understanding.
But several drafts, faxed to the two capitals, were rejected and the meeting ended without a resolution.
Jamaica Solicitor General, Dr Kenneth Rattray, an expert on the Law of the Sea, prepared up to 20 drafts of a compromise but could not break the deadlock, sources told the Observer.
"It was a frustrated Patterson, having done a fair bit of bullying to keep the Surinamese at the table after Saturday, who conceded that there would be no settlement," a source told the newspaper.
Rohee declined to comment on the specific details of the issue on which the talks foundered but said: "We had agreed on the principle that nothing is agreed until all is agreed."
He also warned against building expectations with the new government about to take office in Suriname.
He told deFreitas: "We have to be careful that we don't create expectations that these new guys will spin the ball differently. The approaches may be different but the national objectives will be the same."
Rohee stressed too, that with the failure to agree on a sharing arrangement until a final settlement was in place, the two countries suffered.
"We can't have this hanging over our heads like the Sword of Damocles while all the resources just lie there. We are two poor countries."
Guyana, Rohee said, would continue to strive for a negotiated solution to the issue.
"We have to avoid confrontation...This is a matter that has to be solved by negotiations", he told deFreitas.
By Saturday night, Patterson 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 in Montego Bay 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".
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