Oil rig talks to resume in Jamaica
Presidents Jagdeo, Wijdenbosch to meet

By Patrick Denny in Canouan
Stabroek News
July 6, 2000

Guyana and Suriname are to meet next week in Jamaica to discuss the return of the CGX Energy Inc oil rig to its location from which it was ejected by the Suriname Navy on June 3.

Jamaican Prime Minister P J Patterson will be the facilitator of the talks between Presidents Bharrat Jagdeo and Jules Wijdenbosch which were preceded by three failed rounds in Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname.

However, there is a difference of understanding between President Jagdeo and Suriname's President Wijdenbosch as to the interpretation of the agreement reached last night, the final day of the CARICOM Summit held at Canouan in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Briefing the media at about 9:00 pm yesterday, President Jagdeo said that the issue to be discussed would be the rig's return and issues related to joint exploitation of marine resources in the disputed area.

However at a later press conference Wijdenbosch said that the rig's return would be discussed in the context of the larger border dispute.

Suriname's Natural Resources Minister, Errol Alibux, who was at the press conference said that Jagdeo's interpretation was too narrow for such a complex issue.

CARICOM Chairman Sir James Mitchell, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, also said that rig's return was an issue which had to be dealt with urgently. He said that the border issue would be fast-tracked and would be facilitated by himself and the CARICOM Secretariat. This was confirmed by Jagdeo.

Sir James said that CARICOM had made no condemnation of the use of force by Suriname since it could not do so and act as honest broker between the two parties. However, he stressed that the leaders were disappointed by the use of force to settle a dispute which could be resolved by negotiations.

A statement on the issue which had been agreed on by the CARICOM Heads and will be circulated by the secretariat, speaks about the Jamaica meeting discussing the recent dispute between Guyana and Suriname.

Wijdenbosch, at his press conference, which started at 10:00 pm last night and finished at 11:30 pm again denied that Suriname had used force in evicting the CGX rig from its drilling location. Reading from a prepared statement he had delivered to the heads in caucus, he said that the Suriname Navy's action on June 3, was in accordance with International Maritime Regulations for removing vessels from a country's territorial waters.

Another area of difference between Jagdeo and Wijdenbosch was the question of the mandate with which the Suriname president went to the meeting. Jagdeo said that at one stage of the discussions at the bilateral level on Tuesday night, in Patterson's presence, Wijdenbosch had said that he had no mandate to reach a resolution of the issue.

Wijdenbosch told reporters that he had gone to the summit to give Suriname's version of the events of June 3, and those subsequent to that date. He claimed that Guyana went to the summit with the intention of settling the dispute.

Wijdenbosch said that Suriname owed no obligation to Guyana for its support of Paramaribo's application to enter CARICOM. He claimed that Guyana had tried to impose a condition on Suriname's entry. Also, he stressed that there were no conditions with which Suriname had to comply for entry to CARICOM as Guyana had stated.

Alibux said that as Wijdenbosch would leave office in about four to five weeks, he needed to make it clear to the incoming president what agreement he proposed to make. He stressed that Wijdenbosch would hold the necessary consultations and obtain the necessary agreements with the incoming government in the next seven days. Alibux stressed too that until Wijdenbosch left office he had the authority to make whatever agreement he chose.

Yesterday's agreement to meet in Jamaica, was brokered after two days of discussion, including the 10:00 pm bilateral meeting on Tuesday, which lasted for about an hour, a second round yesterday for a similar period, as well as substantial talks at the caucus of heads on Tuesday.

The talks on the dispute took centre stage at the meeting relegating some of the other issues to the backburner. Another issue which took up considerable time was the electoral events in Haiti. Sir James told reporters that CARICOM had no evidence that the elections were so flawed as to distort the results. He said that there was concern about the electoral formula used to determine the candidates for the run off elections on Sunday.

Sir James said that some of these had been successfully addressed, but the rest would call for some sensitive diplomatic work. A mission headed by Sir John Compton, former prime minister of St Lucia is in Haiti at present, undertaking this work with the various political parties.

Meanwhile at the close of the summit yesterday, world famous Grenadian born calypsonian Francisco Slinger--the Mighty Sparrow was among the three recipients of the Order of the CARICOM Community. The others were Sir George Alleyne, PAHO Director and George Price former prime minister of Belize.

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