Guyana takes Suriname border row to Commonwealth

Guyana Chronicle
September 16, 2000

GUYANA has tabled the fresh territorial dispute with Suriname with the Commonwealth and the London-based grouping is backing this country in the row, Secretary-General Don McKinnon said yesterday.

The Commonwealth at its summit in Durban, South Africa last year agreed to set up a special ministerial group on Guyana to monitor developments in the border controversy with Venezuela.

The body met for the first time this week in New York and maintained the Commonwealth's previously stated support for Guyana in the row with Venezuela.

But it has now also taken on board the dispute with Suriname which flared after Suriname gunboats June 3 evicted the Canadian CGX firm drilling for oil in Guyana's territorial waters, McKinnon told the Chronicle.

The gunboat action soured relations between the two countries and the issue dominated attention at the July Caribbean Community (CARICOM) summit in St Vincent and the Grenadines which McKinnon attended.

He had told the Chronicle then that the Commonwealth, and especially the Secretariat "and myself are very, very sensitive to these border issues."

Noting that the ministerial group was looking at particularly the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy, McKinnon said it was up to Guyana "whether they wish to introduce Suriname also into this particular ministerial meeting."

At the first meeting in New York Thursday, Guyana Foreign Minister Clement Rohee briefed the group on both border issues.

In a statement after the meeting, the Commonwealth said the group "expressed its firm support and solidarity with the Government and people of Guyana in the maintenance of their territorial integrity and sovereignty."

"The group called for a peaceful settlement of the controversy between Guyana and Venezuela, and to the dispute between Guyana and Suriname", it said.

"The group commended the efforts of CARICOM in providing a framework for the resolution of the dispute between Guyana and Suriname and, in particular, the supportive role played by the Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Hon. Percival Patterson", the statement said.

The ministers also recognised the "invaluable role played by the United Nations Good Officer, Mr Oliver Jackman, to assist in finding a peaceful settlement to the controversy with Venezuela and urged the United Nations to continue to use its good offices in that regard."

The Chronicle understands a scheduled meeting in New York between Jackman, Rohee, Venezuela Foreign Minister Vicente Rangel and others has been postponed because Rangel could not make it.

Jackman has briefed UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on the latest developments in the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy and Annan was to have met the Good Officer, Rohee and Rangel in New York this week.

McKinnon said the group on Guyana expressed the Commonwealth's "solidarity with a member state which could stand to lose some three-quarters of its territory" from the claims by Venezuela and Suriname.

The meeting agreed that senior officials of the group in London would convene as and when required to give practical assistance to the group.

McKinnon said he "is in regular contact" with President Bharrat Jagdeo on the issue and the Commonwealth was ready to provide technical assistance if this was required by Guyana.

"We stand ready to help if asked", he told the Chronicle in a telephone interview.

At the New York meeting were Dr Patrick Lewis, Permanent Representative to the United Nations (Antigua and Barbuda); Mr A.H. Mahmood Ali, High Commissioner to the United Kingdom (Bangladesh); Mr Alan Kessel, Minister (Political), High Commission to the United Kingdom (Canada); Rohee; Mr Stafford Neil, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Jamaica); Mr Abdul A.S. Minty, Deputy Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (South Africa), and Mr Peter Hain, Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (United Kingdom).

The group received a report from Rohee on the current situation concerning the territorial issues with Venezuela and Suriname.

President Jagdeo met Venezuela President Hugo Chavez at the first ever summit of Presidents of South America in the Brazil capital Brasilia two weeks ago and the two agreed to continue negotiations under the auspices of the UN Secretary General.

Mr Jagdeo also met new Suriname President Ronaldo Venetiaan in Brasilia and they agreed to resume the Patterson-mediated talks.

The Commonwealth noted that over the last 18 months, "Venezuela has adopted a more assertive stance in its relations with Guyana."

"It recently completed its new Constitution, which includes a provision for the establishment of its claim to the Essequibo region. Guyana's position is that the Arbitral Award of 1899 established the existing border between Guyana and Venezuela, and on that basis, the Essequibo region is part of Guyana", it said in a background to the issue.

It also noted that the "Patterson negotiations aimed at agreeing procedures to set in train mechanisms for settling the border dispute, establishing a regime for the joint utilisation of the maritime areas in dispute, and the return of the CGX oil rig to its original location."

"Suriname refused to consider the return of the rig in the context of a framework for modalities for joint utilisation and exploration, and Guyana was not prepared to sign an MOU (Memorandum Of Understanding) on the first two issues without inclusion of the third", the Commonwealth statement said.

It added: "A new development is that Suriname has elected a new government, and the (new) President has indicated that he is aware of the importance of normalising relations with Guyana, but that this might take some time."

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