Jagdeo lobbies CARICOM on joint exploitation
Objects to Surinamese in military uniform

By Patrick Denny in Canouan
Stabroek News
July 4, 2000

President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday lobbied CARICOM Heads on a proposal for joint exploitation of an area being claimed by Suriname pending settlement of the dispute and a key caucus is expected to deliberate on the matter today.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Jagdeo had objected to the presence in military uniform of Suriname Defence Force's Chief of Staff Jerry Slingaard. Later in the day, in the face of the reluctance of CARICOM Heads to make a decision on the issue Mr Jagdeo decided to leave the matter up to Suriname's President Jules Wijdenbosch.

President Jagdeo told reporters at a press briefing that he had objected to the presence of Slingaard, Chief of Staff of the army, navy and airforce, in uniform as there was no precedent for such a presence and that to allow it now would be to set a very unwelcome pattern.

The heads went into caucus to decide how to treat with Guyana's objection, but after there was no decision on the issue, President Jagdeo indicated to his colleagues that Wijdenbosch should decide, given the sensitive nature of the issue being discussed. Wijdenbosch decided that Slingaard should remain in his uniform. However, President Jagdeo told reporters at the press briefing, that when the heads meet in caucus, Slingaard would not be present. Nor, Mr Jagdeo said, would he meet Wijdenbosch in the presence of a military officer.

The four-day conference opened on Sunday in St Vincent and the Grenadines with the dispute between Guyana and Suriname over the latter's eviction of the CGX rig from this country's waters as one of the high-octane issues.

Suriname contended yesterday that it had a right to choose whomsoever it wanted to be part of its delegation. Surinamese Foreign Minister, Errol Snijders, told reporters that as a democratic institution CARICOM could not have problems with the military. He added that when the border issue was being discussed Suriname had a right to include a specialist on the issue.

Snijders also contended that it was only Guyana which had a problem with Slingaard's presence as the other heads had not expressed concern. The two delegations are sure to clash again when the border issue is raised at today's caucus.

Snijders told reporters that Suriname had no problem with joint exploitation of the area offshore the Corentyne but stressed that Guyana would have to accept that the territory was Suriname's. "The area where there were activities is Suriname's territory. We don't have any problem to go into cooperation with any country but that country should be aware that the territory is Suriname's territory." Snijders stressed that once that fact was accepted the issue of joint exploration could be examined, explaining that for Suriname there was no disputed territory as the territory belonged to Paramaribo.

The Surinamese foreign minister also restated his country's claim to the New River area, telling reporters that "also the south, the so-called Tigre area is also Suriname's territory," and that he had told Guyana's Foreign Minister Clement Rohee "that we should talk and discuss the total border question before we could talk about cooperation."

He explained that he was referring to the Corentyne River when talking about the New River Triangle and the Corentyne River was Suriname's River. And to the question of Suriname not having a presence in the area which it claimed as its territory, Snijders said, "we have to go back into history. At the time that your country came into the Tigre [New River] we were still a colony [but] as an independent country we wouldn't accept activities in Surinamese territory. That's why we are saying let's sit and discuss and once and for all settle this question."

Questioned about Suriname's position conflicting with the 1989 agreement between then presidents of Guyana and Suriname, Desmond Hoyte and Ramsaywack Shankar, Snijders insisted that there was no agreement but a declaration by the two presidents. Contending that there was a difference between a declaration and an agreement, Snijders said, "due to the fact that there were discussions going on at some time for the sake of the discussions [the] Heads of States agreed to a declaration that the area should be jointly exploited. But if you have that agreement Guyana should not go there in such a way. Then you should have discussed with me the fact you are going to have activity there."

Snijders stressed too that Suriname had always contended that it had sovereignty over New River and the Corentyne River and the boundary as delineated in the historical documents related to the issue. "If the Corentyne River is your river why would your Minister of Foreign [Affairs] fly to Suriname to request permission for Guyanese fishermen to continue to fish in the Corentyne River? If it is your river then you don't need to ask permission for your people to fish in your river."

President Jagdeo told reporters that he found some of his colleagues and foreign ministers sympathetic to the joint exploitation proposal pending final settlement of the dispute. "It is a reasonable proposition [and] it has precedence internationally."

He said too that he was hoping that the CARICOM Heads would take a look at the proposal and "take a firm position and basically ask Suriname to engage in discussions on it."

President Jagdeo said that Guyana was still insisting on the unhindered return of the CGX Energy Inc oil rig to the drilling location from which Surinamese gunboats evicted it on June 3.

Suriname has requested permission to show a video tape of the events of June 3, as it is contending that no force was used in the eviction of CGX. The Caribbean Broadcasting Union (CBU) was expected to air the footage last night. Suriname is denying that force was used. "No guns were ever fired and no acts were committed that could even remotely be construed as aggression," Harvey Naarendorp, Suriname's Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago told the Caribbean News Agency (CANA). Naarendorp said that as soon as Suriname had learned of Guyana's intention to issue a licence for the company to drill for oil in 1998 "the diplomatic machinery was immediately put into gear to enter into a peaceful dialogue to resolve the issue." The diplomat claimed that despite all attempts at initiating talks on the matter, the Surinamese were given the cold shoulder.

"As a result, when the rig arrived in Suriname's territorial waters, it was instructed to leave, which it did peacefully," Naarendorp asserted. He charged that Guyana's directing the rig to the spot "was an attempt to establish a precedent that was and is totally unacceptable and was, in fact, deliberately setting out to create a confrontation." He contended that to date the conflict had not yet been defined in accordance with the relevant principles and regulations of the Law of the Sea Treaty to which both countries are signatories.

Meanwhile, Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon, was yesterday briefed on the Guyana-Suriname dispute by President Jagdeo.

One of the secretary-general's aides told CANA that McKinnon was expected to "transmit Jagdeo's concerns... to the governments of the 54-member Commonwealth..."

McKinnon, who was a special guest at the summit, would have apprised CARICOM heads on the political situations in Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Fiji and the Solomon Islands. McKinnon returned to London yesterday.

Asked if he had been in touch with President Wijdenbosch, who arrived here on Sunday just before the start of the opening session, President Jagdeo said that they had met during the reception that followed the ceremonial opening session of the conference at the Carenage Beach Resort and Gold Club. The issue of the rig was not raised during their brief conversation.

However, he said that he had met informally with CGX President, Kerry Sully, who with CGX Director Dennis Clemens is staying at the Carenage Bay resort where the CARICOM Heads are being accommodated. They were to meet formally last evening. Sully has told Stabroek News that they were there in case they were needed.

President Jagdeo said that he would be prepared to have the caucus hear from the CGX officials if the tape which Suriname had provided to the CBU contained any misrepresentation.

President Jagdeo noted that the marine resources in the area, according to the seismic surveys, extended deep into the territories of Guyana and Suriname and exploitation of these resources could significantly transform the economies of both countries.

To questions from Surinamese reporters about Guyana's eviction of Surinamese soldiers from the New River Triangle, Mr Jagdeo said that the area had historically been Guyana's. Asked about Suriname's claim, he said that it was "historically recent."

Meanwhile, President Jagdeo's lost luggage turned up in St Vincent on Sunday morning. However, the suitcase was so badly damaged that he had to have a new one purchased. President Jagdeo flew to St Vincent aboard a LIAT flight. and Steve Ninvalle)

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