Rig talks useful but deal unlikely today
- Abrams
Suriname asks to see CGX agreement

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
June 14, 2000

Guyana was asked to provide Suriname with answers to three questions during yesterday's meeting on the CGX oil rig controversy and a settlement seems unlikely to be clinched today.

The requests at the Herdmanston House session are for information about the details of the agreement between the Government of Guyana and CGX Energy Inc allowing it to explore for oil in Guyana's territorial waters; Guyana's reasons for its position that the CGX rig was in its territorial waters and the steps Guyana would wish Suriname to take to allow the rig to return to its drilling location.

With respect to the last request, Guyana had invited Suriname to say what steps had to be taken to allow the CGX rig to return to its location at the special ministerial meeting which was convened in Trinidad last week.

The answers to the questions, Suriname's response and the programmes the two sides will set out, leader of Suriname's technical delegation, Henk Alimahomed, said, would determine whether an agreement could be reached by the end of the meeting today. "But there is, as I said already, a firm basis; there is a good understanding. That is, of course, of great importance but still we have a long path to go," Alimahomed said.

The leader of Guyana's technical delegation, Donald Abrams, ruled out an agreement by the end of today, even though he agreed that the talks were constructive. If there is no agreement, the dialogue will shift to Paramaribo on Saturday and Sunday.

About yesterday's discussions, Alimahomed said that the two sides "exchanged views and information which is the basis for the continuation of our programme and discussions.

"What we are trying to find is a peaceful solution to this problem. It is a very technical problem with a strong political dimension. So what we need is as much information and clarification as possible; we are going back to old documents [and] new ones. We exchanged positions on modalities and on that basis we have all the information which is necessary to continue and to make progress."

But, he said, "still it remains very complicated."

The Surinamese official noted that both sides at the Joint Technical Committee (JTC) meeting had demonstrated their willingness "to find a solution but the solution lies, of course, in the answers which we would like to have concerning the oil rig; the legal status of the oil rig, and the position of the Government of Guyana concerning the border and all these very important issues."

Abrams told reporters that with respect to the request for the agreement with CGX, "we have to clarify why Suriname would like to have that contract between CGX and GGMC [Guyana Geology and Mines Commission].

"Suriname is trying to prove the point that we granted a concession on their territory. It is our conviction that we granted a concession to CGX in keeping with Guyana's maritime law of 1977."

He said that by today, after the team had consulted with Foreign Minister, Clement Rohee, a decision would be taken on whether to make the document public. "I don't know what is the normal procedure or format; whether the GGMC is required to hand over documents for public scrutiny or for a party such as Suriname." The first meeting of the JTC, which flowed from a decision of last week's meeting in Port-of-Spain, began yesterday against a background of cautious optimism and conciliatory gestures by both Guyana and Suriname.

The first session last for just over 90 minutes before the two sides broke for lunch at Cara Lodge. For the post-lunch session, Rohee, the leader of the Guyana delegation and Suriname's Foreign Minister Errol Snijders and acting Prime Minister, Errol Alibux, withdrew for private discussions while the technical negotiations proceeded. The two Surinamese ministers also paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Sam Hinds who is performing the duties of president, while President Bharrat Jagdeo is out of the country.

Rohee told Stabroek News in a telephone interview after the morning session, that the prospects for a settlement were on the horizon and they were working towards that.

With regard to the answers Suriname was to provide as to the steps which would have to be taken to allow the rig to return to its drilling location unhindered, Rohee said they were to be provided during the technical discussions.

Both Abrams and Alimahomed described the talks yesterday as cordial when they spoke to the Guyana and Suriname media after the adjournment at about 7.15 pm.

Speaking with Surinamese and Guyanese journalists before the start of the meeting, Rohee said both countries stood to benefit from the joint exploration of the resources in the disputed area pending the settlement of the border issue. He said the two countries owed it to their peoples to settle the issue peacefully.

He said that his optimism that a solution could be found at the end of the talks today was grounded in the strength, maturity and reasonableness of Guyana's position. Moreover, he said that it was based on law and morality and this allowed for mutuality and the sharing of benefits.

Rohee said too that though the Guyanese people had been aggrieved by the forcible eviction of the CGX rig because as a nation they did not subscribe to gunboat diplomacy and the use of force in settling disputes, a lot of water had flowed under the bridge since June 3. Now, he said, the Guyanese people have taken the realistic view that the matter had to be settled by dialogue.

The minister also told reporters that the Guyanese people have had the opportunity of being exposed to the viewpoints of both the Guyanese and Surinamese authorities and were positioned to judge the justness of the cases made out by them.

Alibux, who is leading the Suriname delegation to the JTC talks, was also optimistic that the best possible results would be sought from the groundwork laid in Trinidad and Tobago when the two sides met on June 6.

Suriname's Permanent Representative to the UN, Subhaas Mungra, has meanwhile expressed optimism that "the border dispute can be solved bilaterally and peacefully," according to a report in yesterday's Internet edition of De Ware Tijd, a Suriname daily.

Mungra met President Jagdeo who passed through New York and requested the meeting. De Ware Tijd said that they were old friends, with Mungra having provided President Jagdeo with advice on several occasions when he was minister of finance.

Mungra was quoted by De Ware Tijd as saying that there were reasonable possibilities within the framework of the United Nations Maritime Agreement of December 10, 1982 and to which both Guyana and Suriname were signatories. He cited Article 74(3) of the agreement which provided for countries with a maritime dispute to agree to joint economic activities in the area without compromising their legal claims.

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