Hope for CGX rig but no firm agreement yet
More talks likely soon

By Patrick Denny and Desiree Jodah
Stabroek News
June 8, 2000

After gruelling talks lasting more than eleven hours between Guyana and Suriname there was hope yesterday that the CGX oil rig could be back at its drill site by Tuesday but nothing concrete has yet been worked out.

The official communique issued in Georgetown yesterday after the talks on Tuesday in Trinidad and Tobago only said that the two sides had agreed that a Joint Technical Committee (JTC) should begin working immediately to settle the dispute over oil exploration concessions and more particularly CGX's.

Stabroek News has learnt that there are likely to be two meetings of this body before Tuesday and that CGX was prepared to wait until then even though the eviction of its rig from Guyana's waters by the Suriname coast guard is costing it US$70,000 per day.

The JTC will meet to seek a resolution to the issue as part of a two-track approach by the two countries to settle the wider issue of their border dispute. The locations of the meetings have not been settled but they are likely to be held in either Guyana or Suriname.

In the other branch of the approach, the two sides which were led respectively by Foreign Minister, Clement Rohee, and his Surinamese counterpart Erroll Snijders, agreed "to reconvene the Joint Meetings of their respective National Border Commissions and in keeping with the sense of urgency which the occasion demanded, determined that the next Meeting should take place no later than July 7, 2000."

They also agreed, according to the Joint Communique issued after the meeting, that, in the wider context of strengthening the relations between them, "immediate steps should be taken to reconvene the next Meeting of the Cooperation Council in order to advance the many programmes designed to achieve that objective." President Bharrat Jagdeo is to hold a press conference today on the dispute over the oil exploration concession at which Rohee will also be present.

The Border Commission and the Cooperation Council were created in 1989 by an agreement reached between then President Desmond Hoyte and his Surinamese counterpart at the time, Ramsaywack Shankar.

The foregoing were some of the arrangements which the two sides agreed on Tuesday had to be put in place, as a matter of some urgency to avoid any further deterioration in the relations between the two South American neighbours.

The Port-of-Spain meeting was convened at Guyana's initiative and facilitated by the Basdeo Panday administration. It was called to find a solution to the dispute between the two countries following Suriname's use of force under the cover of darkness on Saturday morning to remove the CGX rig from within Guyana's maritime boundary which Paramaribo says is in an area of maritime space it claims.

Stabroek News understands that before the dispute had hit the headlines here that Suriname's outgoing president Jules Wijdenbosch had been in contact with Trinidad Prime Minister Panday about the issue.

The communique said that Guyana and Suriname agreed that the recent developments "if left unresolved, posed a threat to the peace and security of respective territories."

"They were firmly of the view that as neighbouring territories, Guyana and Suriname had a special responsibility to settle their differences in a peaceful manner and in keeping with the principles of international law governing relations between States."

The communique said that the two sides were satisfied with the results of the meeting and "were convinced that as a result of their timely action a potentially explosive situation was being brought under control."

In a press release issued by the Foreign Ministry yesterday afternoon, Rohee said that a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was tabled by Guyana for Suriname's consideration to which its delegation agreed to respond "within a time agreed by both sides".

He said too that the Guyana delegation "conveyed its concern and gave notice to the Surinamese side as regards the complications and further deterioration of the situation that would arise with the non-implementation, and/or non-expeditious approach to its request for an early agreement on the MOU to facilitate the return of the CGX oil rig to its original location."

Stabroek News understands that the draft MOU was based on the 1991 Memorandum of Understanding for the implementation of the 1989 agreement signed by Hoyte and Shankar. Suriname has never honoured either of these documents.

Sources told Stabroek News that the draft MOU tabled on Tuesday proposes that with respect to petroleum licences already conferred by Guyana up to and including June 14, 1999 and which fall within the area of overlap i.e. the area delineated by the lines North 10 East (True) and North 33 East (True) the following shall apply until the frontier between Guyana and Suriname is determined:

1) Rights granted in the area of overlap shall be fully respected and not disturbed and that the two governments agree that nothing should be done to impair these rights;

2) That in relation to the obligations of the licencees in the area of overlap the two governments agree that nothing should be done to increase the obligations of the licencees in the area of overlap;

3) Both parties agree that the MOU provisions do not prejudice their respective claims in the area of overlap. Rohee explained in the press release that among other things Guyana had made its position clear that the CGX rig had been within Guyana's maritime boundary and was there legitimately and that it must be allowed to return unhindered to its original location; Suriname's use of force to remove the rig was unnecessary and is considered "hostile and unfriendly"; and that the use of force to settle a dispute between neighbouring countries both of whom are CARICOM member states "is unacceptable and inconsistent with internationally accepted principles."

He said that Guyana had made clear too that it "will use all the resources at its disposal to protect and defend its territorial integrity and national sovereignty."

Rohee's statement said too that both sides have agreed that certain steps will be taken in an established time frame agreed upon by the two sides. No details were provided.

Meanwhile, CGX's President and Chief Executive Officer Kerry Sully told Stabroek News yesterday that the Canadian company was shocked at the action taken by the Suriname military on Saturday. Sully who is in the country with other CGX directors awaiting the outcome of the talks said that his company had not anticipated any problems with Paramaribo on the oil drilling.

He pointed out that last year while CGX was prospecting in the same contested waters it had sought and been granted permission by Suriname to turn its ship five miles into that country's established maritime zone for over six weeks.

Sully lamented that his company was losing around US$70,000 per day while the rig lies idle some 70 kilometres west of the original drill site. He said that there was no consideration of recourse to another drill location since all efforts had been focused on the Eagle site. He admitted that time was vital to them being able to continue the proposed drilling and an urgent decision was needed. CGX comprises, he said, seven investors who had pooled their resources with others from various countries and this was their only enterprise.

While the stalemate continues, Suriname is reinforcing its control over the Corentyne River. Reports out of Suriname monitored by the Guyana Defence Force, confirm the heightened military presence in the Nickerie District.

The reports said that more soldiers were deployed at Nickerie to man four gunboats which will be patrolling the Corentyne River until the border issue has been settled. On Tuesday, reports out of Berbice said that three Suriname patrol boats appeared off Moleson Creek from where the Guyana-Suriname ferry operates and later moved off towards Nos. 57 and 58 Villages and then into the Atlantic.

The members of the Guyana delegation to the talks were Donald Abrams, formerly an ambassador to Paramaribo; Rudy Collins; Elizabeth Harper; Guyana's Ambassador to Suriname, Karshanjee Arjun; Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock, Bhowan Balkarran; Colonel Chabilall Ramsarup of the Guyana Defence Force; Head of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), Brian Sucre; Manager of the Petroleum Division of the GGMC, Newell Dennison; Technical Adviser to the Minister of Agriculture, R. Jaggarnauth and Legal Consultant, Dr Barton Scotland. The delegation members returned yesterday.

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