Oil rig's return unresolved
Talks to reconvene in Suriname

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
June 15, 2000

Talks between Guyana and Suriname, initiated to seek the return of the CGX Energy Inc oil rig to its drilling site, ended inconclusively yesterday and will reconvene in Paramaribo at the weekend.

At the conclusion of the first day of the talks on Tuesday, Suriname had fielded three questions. Among them, was a request for information about the exploration agreement between Guyana and the Toronto-based CGX.

Leader of Suriname's technical delegation, Henk Alimahomed, had said that Guyana's answers to the requests, Suriname's response and the programme set out by both sides would determine whether an agreement could be reached at the end of yesterday's meeting. However, the Joint Technical Committee meeting scheduled to reconvene at 10.00 am yesterday never reconvened. But Foreign Minister, Clement Rohee, told reporters he briefed yesterday at Herdmanston House that there had been consultations at the political level.

He said that he and Suriname's acting Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources, Errol Alibux, were the main players in those sessions. He said that even before the two sides met in Trinidad it was recognised that a resolution of the impasse would need political inputs at various levels.

Rohee disclosed that the political consultations started after the talks adjourned on Tuesday evening and continued into the early hours of yesterday morning. The last session between himself and Alibux, Rohee said, was at 1:15 pm at Le Meridien Pegasus. Rohee explained that there was more emphasis on political consultations at this meeting since it was felt that those discussions would have facilitated resolution of the issues at the technical level.

Despite the inconclusiveness of the talks here, Rohee was still optimistic, pointing out that the meeting should not be seen as an event, but part of the process of resolving the dispute peacefully.

He said that his optimism had its basis in the justness of Guyana's position, which was based on equity and law, a sense of justice and fair play, a tremendous sense of realism and reasonableness.

Rohee said that some progress had been made in the sense that the mandate to meet in Guyana was kept and that at the political level a number of issues had been clarified. But he stressed that Guyana was not happy at the rate of progress which had been made.

Rohee said that a solution was on the horizon and Guyana was working towards achieving it. He reminded that June 18, was still the outside date by which Guyana was working to achieve its immediate objective of having the CGX oil rig return unhindered to its drilling location from which it was forcibly evicted on June 3.

Rohee said that if Guyana failed to achieve this objective by June 18, then it would have to assess what had been achieved thus far with a view to making whatever adjustments were necessary to the strategic and tactical negotiating positions.

Asked what would be the next step, he referred to the statement by President Bharrat Jagdeo at his press conference last week that the government would do all that was necessary to maintain the country's territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Questioned about Guyana's response to the request by Suriname for details of the CGX contract, Rohee said while Guyana was willing to make it available it would have to be in the context of a package of things to be done towards solving the whole issue and not as an ad hoc arrangement.

With regard to CGX, Rohee said that the company was being kept fully briefed and would be apprised of what took place at the just concluded meeting. He said that the company had been very supportive of Guyana's efforts.

Rohee observed that one of the government's objectives was to avoid CGX walking away from the investment. He expressed the hope that in keeping CGX fully briefed, "understanding will prevail but that this has to be tempered by the implications of the economic considerations." He added that CGX was "not unaware of a dispute between Guyana and Suriname."

He said that because of these considerations Guyana was not interested in prolonged negotiations, hence the deadline it had set itself for concluding an agreement. Rohee stressed that Guyana had always maintained that the CGX rig and concession were within Guyana's maritime jurisdiction and had so assured CGX.

Asked about Guyana's position on joint exploitation, Rohee said that joint exploitation of the resources in the disputed area had been the position of the Guyana's administrations from 1989 and had always been on the table. He said that when then president Dr Cheddi Jagan visited Suriname in 1994, the Guyana delegation had tried unsuccessfully to have language consistent with the 1989 agreement reached by former presidents of Guyana and Suriname, Desmond Hoyte and Ramsaywack Shankar, included in joint communique to be signed by Dr Jagan and the then president of Suriname, Ronald Venetiaan.

Meanwhile, CGX officials are still awaiting the outcome of the talks and are unwilling to say when the losses from the inactivity of the rig would force them to walk away from the investment.

The company, in a press release issued last night, said that its President Kerry Sully, asserted that CGX had not sent any official or representative to speak on its behalf in Suriname. CGX said that reports in the Suriname press to that effect were incorrect and without merit.

Even before Rohee announced the conclusion of the talks, the media at Herdmanston House learnt that the Surinamese delegation had departed as the police ordered the removal of the barriers which had been placed around the area. They also learnt of the departure of the Surinamese media corps which had camped out at Herdmanston House on Tuesday. They left at 2.00 pm.

The media learnt too of the shifting of the talks to Paramaribo from comments by Alimahomed, who told a reporter that the talks had made no headway and that Rohee had been invited to Suriname.

The Guyana delegation to the talks here was strengthened by the inclusion of former foreign minister, Rashleigh Jackson and former GDF Coast Guard chief, Commander Gary Best. Jackson told Stabroek News that he had been approached and accepted willingly because he saw it as a bipartisan issue.

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