Guyana 'more or less there'
- Rohee

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
June 7, 2000

Guyana and Suriname were up to press time still locked in talks aimed at resolving a raging dispute which led to the eviction of a CGX Resources Inc oil rig in this country's waters off the Corentyne coast on Saturday morning.

Speaking to Stabroek News from Port-of-Spain at around 9.45 last night where he is leading a 11-member delegation to the talks with the Surinamese, Foreign Minister Clement Rohee said that there was scope for movement in the discussions. He said that his delegation was still not satisfied with the pace at which the talks were proceeding at that stage.

Stabroek News spoke to Rohee after the two sides had suspended their discussions at 9 pm. The talks were to resume around midnight and Rohee said he expected that by the end of that session there would be a formulation of the areas of understanding and agreements reached during the day.

Speaking generally about the discussions, Rohee said that Guyana was "more or less there" on a number of objectives which it had set out to achieve. He said too that the delegation was working to get the CGX rig to return to the location within Guyana's jurisdiction from which it had been removed by the Surinamese Coast Guard on Saturday.

Rohee said that Guyana had taken the opportunity to reaffirm its sovereignty over the area and that the question of the reactivation of the Guyana-Suriname Border Commission and the Guyana-Suriname Cooperation Council came up for discussion.

Guyana in the exchange of notes between the two countries had recommended the reactivation of these two bodies. He reported that he had very good support from the other members of his delegation who were able to put forward strong cases for Guyana's position in the various areas discussed.

The talks in Port-of-Spain were taking place against the background of a heightened presence of the Surinamese army across the Corentyne River in Nickerie yesterday. In addition, in the late afternoon yesterday three Surinamese patrol boats appeared off Moleson Creek from where the Guyana-Suriname ferry operates and later moved off towards numbers 57 and 58 villages and then into the Atlantic. Stabroek News understands that these occurrences were not known by the Guyana delegation in Port-of-Spain. These developments were being monitored by the Guyana Defence Force, sources say.

From unofficial sources outside the conference room at the Cascadia Hotel in St Ann's, just outside Port-of-Spain, Stabroek News has learnt that the priority objectives of the Guyana delegation were to have the CGX rig return to the area without hindrance from the Suriname authorities.

Another issue on the table was the 1989 agreement signed by then President Desmond Hoyte and his Surinamese counterpart Ramsaywack Shankar which was augmented by a 1991 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by then Foreign Affairs Adviser to the President, Dr Cedric Grant and then Surinamese Ambassador to Guyana, Dr John Kolader.

These two agreements which the then Suriname government said were not implemented because they had not been ratified by the Paramaribo legislature provided for exploitation of the petroleum reserves to benefit the two countries pending the settlement of the border dispute.

The 1991 MOU, Stabroek News has been informed, was signed in return for Guyana undertaking to attempt to have CARICOM leaders soften their criticism of the 1990 Christmas Eve coup by the Surinamese military. Stabroek News understands that Suriname subsequently questioned the authority of Kolader to sign the MOU. The sources said the marathon talks yesterday took place in a cordial atmosphere with the first session getting underway at 2 pm and not ending until 9 pm.

The talks were originally scheduled to have started at 11 am but got underway at around 2 pm after what was described as preliminary skirmishing.

Stabroek News understands that the Surinamese delegation did not arrive at Piarco until 9:30 am yesterday and did not leave the airport until around 10:30 am.

The Guyana delegation arrived in Trinidad at 6 am and by 10 am had checked in at the hotel, breakfasted and were meeting among themselves. At 11 am they were in the conference room awaiting their Surinamese counterparts who by this time were lunching in the hotel.

After the Suriname delegation had lunched, Rohee met privately with Suriname's Minister of Natural Resources and Finance, Erroll Alibux while Rohee's counterpart, Errol Snijders, was in the conference room where the two delegations made small talk.

After meeting with Alibux, Rohee entered the conference room and the Suriname delegation then decided that they needed to meet privately. This they did while the Guyana delegation waited. When the Surinamese were ready, the Guyana delegation then decided that they too needed to meet privately and withdrew. On their return, the talks began in earnest.

The members of the Guyana delegation were Donald Abrams, once an ambassador to Suriname; Rudy Collins; Elizabeth Harper; Guyana's Ambassador to Suriname, Karshanjee Arjun; Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock, Bhowan Balkarran; Col Chabilall Ramsaroop of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF); Guyana Geology and Mines Commissioner, Brian Sucre; Manager of the Petroleum Division of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, Newell Dennison; Technical Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture, R. Jaggarnauth; and legal consultant, Dr Barton Scotland, who was Guyana's representative to the negotiations on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Suriname's delegation apart from Alibux and Snijders included its ambassador to Guyana, Dr Humphrey Hasrat, the Surinamese army chief Glenn Sedney, and foreign ministry official Henk Alimahomed.

The CGX rig has moved west of the position from which it was chased away and is awaiting the outcome of the talks between the two sides. It was originally supposed to start drilling for oil on Friday and the delay is likely to cost CGX about US$30,000 per day exclusive of wages for the 80-member crew and other operating costs.

At the core of the dispute is the demarcation of maritime boundaries between Guyana and Suriname off the Corentyne River. Georgetown is maintaining that the drilling location was well within this country's waters while Paramaribo differs. This sparked off the exchange of a series of strongly-worded notes between the two sides.

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