'I'm not prepared to waste my time'- political dialogue mediator

Guyana Chronicle
May 11, 1999

THE former Barbados Foreign Minister picked to guide dialogue between the major political parties here, yesterday signalled he would not continue the assignment unless he was convinced the two were serious.

"If I can be satisfied that the parties are seriously committed to getting the issues that affect Guyana resolved, yes, I am prepared to help. But I am not prepared to waste my time," Mr. Maurice King told the Chronicle by telephone from Barbados.

He confirmed that Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary General, Mr. Edwin Carrington, had contacted him on the weekend agreement reached to resume the structured dialogue between the governing People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/Civic) and the main opposition People's National Congress (PNC).

CARICOM last year chose King as facilitator of the talks which stalled some two months ago on differences between the PPP/Civic and the PNC.

King said that for a final decision to be made on his coming back, he would need to speak more with Carrington and get the views of CARICOM Heads of Government on the matter.

CARICOM heads are due to put out a statement on the Guyana situation, following a meeting in the Dominican Republic last month when they discussed the issue.

Carrington yesterday said all the heads had not yet responded to the third draft of the statement so that it can be released.

Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, ended a three-day visit here Sunday, announcing that he had managed to get a commitment from the two sides to restart talks.

He indicated an initial meeting was likely next week, mediated by Carrington in the absence of King.

The dialogue stalled after PNC leader, Mr. Desmond Hoyte declared the talks were "in limbo" and threatened fresh anti-government street protests.

King then convened a meeting between President Janet Jagan and Hoyte to ensure the dialogue continued, but that never got off the ground after Hoyte rejected King's proposals to settle a dispute over alleged remarks by PPP/Civic team leader, Dr. Roger Luncheon.

The PNC took offence to statements by Luncheon that he and PNC team leader, Mr. Lance Carberry were not speaking as equals at the dialogue.

In the agreement reached over the weekend, Anyaoku said the parties agreed to resume the talks on the basis of "equality and mutual respect."

Luncheon last night said he was in touch with Carberry on initial informal discussions as a step forward to putting the new agreement in place, but was asked to call back today.

He has also been in touch with Carrington who indicated that he would not be able to mediate any meeting between the two sides held this week.

The CARICOM Secretary General left Guyana yesterday for a meeting in St. Kitts.

"My feeling is that we might not be able to get that meeting going initially," Luncheon said, but maintained that the best approach would be to have informal talks first.

At a press conference yesterday, Hoyte acknowledged that compromise on both sides brought about the agreement brokered by the Commonwealth Secretary General.

The PNC thanked Anyaoku for his "strenuous and skilful efforts which resulted in the resolution of the issues that caused the breakdown of the inter-party dialogue and prevented its resumption."

Carberry said the PNC looked forward to the "early return" of King, "whose skills and commitment are important for ensuring that the dialogue achieves the results which are beneficial for peaceful progress in Guyana."

"The already agreed agenda for the inter-party dialogue identifies those critical issues which must be resolved. The PNC is committed to that agenda and expects that there will be immediate agreement on modalities to ensure the timely resolution of the issues and speedy implementation of agreed solutions," Carberry said.

The PNC leader said that when the talks get going again, he would like to see timeframes being set to resolve agenda items and the facilitator given greater authority.

He said the mediator should be "able to say to the parties and if necessary to the Guyanese public, `Look, it's time you get on with finalising some agreement on this particular topic.' Either one side or another is dragging its feet, that he has power to sign some kind of culpability and to encourage us in a public way when we are at fault."

"We are not naive to believe that some magic is going to occur but we're going with some cautious optimism, with the hope that there'll be some possibility or a better approach, a more honest approach, and for people to deal with agenda items in a more constructive way", he said.

He said the PNC would be going back to the discussions with the same team led by Carberry and including Mr. Raphael Trotman and Mr. Lloyd Joseph.

Hoyte maintained it was hardly possible to separate the political issues under the dialogue discussion from governmental matters, since for decisions to be taken, there would have to be intervention from the PPP/Civic administration.

The agreement reached with Anyaoku states that the "political dialogue cannot be confused with matters between Government and opposition."

The PPP/Civic and the PNC last year signed two CARICOM-brokered "peace" deals - the Herdmanston Accord and the St. Lucia Statement - amid violence and rising tensions sparked by PNC anti-government street protests in Georgetown against the results of the December 15, 1997 general elections.

The dialogue process was one of several measures agreed to by the two parties in the `peace' accords. (MICHELLE ELPHAGE)

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples