More talks on CGX oil rig set for Tuesday
Rapid re-equipping of GDF on the cards -President

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
June 9, 2000

Guyana has given Suriname until June 18 to agree to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which would allow the oil rig owned by CGX Energy Inc to return to its drilling location unhindered.

The oil rig was forced out of its zone on Saturday in Guyana's territorial waters by two Suriname Navy gun boats. The MOU was tabled by Guyana when the issue was discussed with a delegation from Suriname in neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday. The first round of talks on the MOU will be held in Georgetown on Tuesday. The MOU is based on a 1991 MOU signed by the two countries but which Suriname never implemented claiming that it had not been ratified by its parliament. That MOU called for the exploitation of the marine resources in the disputed area for the joint benefit of the peoples of the two countries.

At a press conference convened on the dispute yesterday, President Bharrat Jagdeo said that he was disappointed "over the fact that while consultations were taking place at the highest levels of government between Guyana and Suriname with a view to defusing this issue, Suriname violated the territorial integrity of Guyana by intruding in our airspace and territorial waters on four occasions on June 2, and 3, at the site of CGX's oil drilling operation."

In the wake of Suriname's action, President Jagdeo said, the government "immediately lodged a strong protest with the Government of Suriname for violating its airspace and territorial waters and called on the Government of Suriname to desist from committing further hostile acts."

He said that CARICOM was also alerted to Suriname's actions and the Community's chairman, St Kitts-Nevis Prime Minister Dr Denzil Douglas, was requested "to take whatever action he deems appropriate at the political and diplomatic levels consistent with the decisions of the Heads [of Government of the CARICOM Community]." The decisions referred to are those of the CARICOM Heads in 1995 requiring that the "Member States and Secretariat make every effort towards the resolution of the Guyana-Suriname border controversy as well as other outstanding difficulties which impede the development of relations between the two countries."

President Jagdeo said that he had discussed the matter with CARICOM Secretary-General Edwin Carrington, who had assured him that the matter was receiving the active attention of the community.

About the outcome of the discussions in Trinidad, President Jagdeo said that he was pleased with the performance of Guyana's negotiating team. He explained that over and over again it had been demonstrated that the maintenance of the country's territorial integrity was not a partisan issue and that the government would always deploy the best technical minds to promote this issue.

The President explained that a concern of the government and its negotiating team was the problem of ensuring that any agreement reached with the present government in Paramaribo which was soon to leave office would be honoured by the incoming government.

He expressed the hope that the response to the MOU which Suriname had undertaken to provide would benefit from consultations with the incoming government.

Foreign Minister, Clement Rohee, who led the team to the Trinidad talks and was also at the press conference, confirmed that this issue had been raised and assurances had been given by the Surinamese delegation that there was a mechanism in place to facilitate an exchange of information on this matter.

Ronald Venetiaan whose New Front (NF) coalition will form the new government told Stabroek News last night from Paramaribo that a decision about the return of the rig was being left to the current Jules Wijdenbosch government.

Pressed on whether a NF administration would honour an agreement reached by its predecessor in office, Venetiaan - a former Surinamese President - said his party subscribed to the rule of continuity. "I think every government can reach an agreement with another government ... and of course its successor will have to follow it." Venetiaan was president of Suriname from 1991-1996 and his NF coalition recently won 33 of the 51 seats in the country's National Assembly.

He said that he had heard that in the negotiations in Trinidad, the two foreign ministers had agreed on the establishment of a Joint Technical Committee which would set the procedures to be followed in the case of petroleum exploration in the disputed area.

He said that he had also heard that the foreign ministers had agreed that the principles of good neighbourliness and the peaceful resolution of disputes should be prime considerations in the efforts to resolve the issue. "I think my party agrees with that."

Pressed to say if there was a basis for the return of the CGX rig unhindered to its drilling location, Venetiaan offered: "at this stage I would leave it to the Cabinet."

He stressed that Suriname had only one government at this time and that government would make the decisions until it transferred power to another administration.

Commenting on the conduct and outcome of the negotiations, Rohee said that it had been a very difficult task but had been accomplished because of the competence of the team. The team, he said, was a blend of persons among whom were those with the required institutional memory and those who had carefully researched the issue. Rohee said that the meeting was conducted in a cordial atmosphere with no posturing by the Surinamese delegation. He said that any victory perceived by the Surinamese after their action on Saturday would be a pyrrhic one. The minister explained that Guyana had the upper hand on the diplomatic front and that it had the requisite expertise to successfully promote Guyana's interest in this issue.

Rohee said that the use of force to compel a resolution of an issue which did not require such action, was generally frowned on by the international community. Also, he said, Suriname had put itself at a disadvantage diplomatically, since its action was contrary to the provisions of a number of international conventions to which it was a signatory. About Guyana's preparedness to defend and maintain its territorial integrity, President Jagdeo assured that his government "will not accept any threats of, or the resort to the use of force by any external actor against this nation state.

"My government stands firm on the maintenance of Guyana's sovereignty and will take whatever action necessary to preserve and protect its territorial integrity."

Responding to observations that Suriname's action should spur a reassessment of the priority given to the needs of the national security agencies, President Jagdeo agreed that national security needs required as much priority as the provision of water, health care and other social services. He noted that Guyanese had to be sensitised to the importance of required military expenditure, since concern about the under-capitalisation of the army would tend to disappear once it was no longer an issue. He said that the media could play an important part in promoting and sustaining public awareness of the need for priority to be given to expenditure on national security.

Detailing government's efforts to address the under-capitalisation of the army, President Jagdeo noted that its approach had been to develop a security strategy in a non-partisan way with the involvement of sections of the donor community.

"Within the context of that strategy we hope we can move forward rapidly with the process of recapitalisation of the GDF through a variety of means. We have already secured commitments from many of the donors that they are willing to look and extend help within the context of that strategy."

Addressing concerns about the lack of a military presence in the border areas, Brigadier Michael Atherly, Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, who was also at the press conference, assured that the GDF had beefed up its presence in the border areas. Stabroek News understands that not only has the military presence increased, but a number of senior officers had been deployed to the border areas.

He assured reporters too that the GDF was following recent events closely and had taken adequate security measures to deal with this issue within the army's capability.

The Chief of Staff said that an increased military presence in Nickerie across the Corentyne River had been observed but that that posed no threat to Guyana at this time.

Guyana's increased military presence in the Corentyne area has, however, drawn some inflammatory words from Errol Alibux, Suriname's Minister of Natural Resources. He yesterday accused Guyana of preparing for armed confrontation, according to Andrea Alexander who presents an English language newscast in Paramaribo. He made the statement at a press conference he hosted. Alexander told Stabroek News yesterday that efforts to whip up anti-Guyana sentiments have been unsuccessful to date as ordinary Surinamese were struggling to make ends meet in very harsh economic circumstances, worrying about paying 1000 guilders for ten pieces of bread. The exchange rate in Suriname is at an all time high of 2200 guilders to US$1.

About concerns for the safety of Guyanese resident in Suriname, President Jagdeo said that apart from one or two people receiving threatening phone calls and a few of them being called names, he had received no reports about any harassment of Guyanese by the Suriname military.

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