Jagdeo cautiously optimistic about talks in Jamaica
Says facilitator is crucial

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
July 8, 2000

President Bharrat Jagdeo is cautiously optimistic that upcoming talks in Jamaica could result in the return of the CGX Energy Inc oil rig to its original drilling location.

But he refused when pressed to say what would be the next step if this fifth round of talks, scheduled for next week, ended in failure.

Two Surinamese gunboats on June 3, forcibly evicted the rig from its drilling location in Guyana's maritime jurisdiction. The rig was contracted to drill in the area by the Canadian company, CGX Energy, in a concession leased to it in Guyana's Exclusive Economic Zone.

But President Jagdeo asserted to reporters at a press conference yesterday at the Office of the President that absolutely unacceptable at the talks would be the sole licensing by Suriname for oil exploration concessions in the disputed area.

"Suriname alone issuing the licence is non-negotiable on our part," the President said adding that the three proposals on the table relating to licensing were the retention of the status quo; joint licensing; or separate licensing covering the same geographic area - that is the area of dispute or the area of overlap. All of this would be without prejudice to the countries' claim to the area.

At the second round of talks in Georgetown the Surinamese negotiating team indicated a willingness to consider joint utilisation of resources in the area if Guyana was prepared to cancel the licence it had issued and allow Suriname to issue it to CGX. This was flatly rejected by Guyana.

President Jagdeo said his optimism was based on the conditions that would obtain at the meeting in Jamaica, which would be different to those under which the bilateral talks took place at the ministerial level in Port-of-Spain, Georgetown and Paramaribo.

He explained that the talks in Kingston would be in the presence of Jamaica's Prime Minister, P.J. Patterson and that his presence would force the Surinamese government to act responsibly.

Also, he said that the return of the rig unhindered to its drilling location had been separated from the border issue and there was a commitment to joint utilisation of the resources of the area.

"The difference between the meetings in Jamaica and all the other meetings we have had is that for the first time we have a third party present and Suriname cannot act willy-nilly and in a very irresponsible manner by making proposals and then at the last minute withdrawing those proposals or making unreasonable demands."

But pressed to say what would be his government's next move if the talks next week ended in failure, President Jagdeo refused to speculate about what the government would do. "But I must say that this meeting is a meeting with a difference that we have a third party present--the presence of CARICOM. I think that the only reason that we reached this agreement (on expediting the crucial issues) which was published was because of the presence of a third party."

President Jagdeo said too that once an agreement brokered by CARICOM was reached, it would expect the parties to implement the agreement. If Suriname did not then CARICOM as a body would be forced to condemn Suriname's action.

Commenting on a number of issues which had been raised at a press conference held by Suriname's President, Jules Wijdenbosch, in Canouan, St Vincent at the just concluded CARICOM summit, President Jagdeo said that the statement in which the issues had been raised had been regarded by the other CARICOM Heads as pure propaganda.

One issue which the Surinamese president raised was the question as to what mandate he had. Wijdenbosch told the press conference that whomever had reported that he had said that he had no mandate to reach an agreement had misrepresented him. Both President Jagdeo and CARICOM Chairman, Sir James Mitchell, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines had told reporters at separate press conferences that the Surinamese president had said that he had no mandate to reach a decision.

To this President Jagdeo said that Prime Minister Patterson would be interested to know if President Wijdenbosch was changing his position.

With reference to the assertion by Wijdenbosch that Guyana had tried to prevent Suriname's entry into CARICOM, Jagdeo said that the other Heads had pointed out to Wijdenbosch that if there had not been unanimous support for Suriname's admission it would not have happened. He said that because of the unanimity rule, Suriname would have been excluded if Guyana had objected.

Foreign Minister, Clement Rohee, who was present at the press conference observed that the Surinamese president had been "grossly misinformed."

Commenting on the borders between the two countries to which Suriname agreed when it joined CARICOM in 1995, Jagdeo said that it was a map of Guyana with the existing borders between the two countries which was recognised by CARICOM. "Therefore there could be no talk about that being an integral part of Suriname." President Jagdeo observed, with reference to that country's contention that the New River Triangle was its territory, that CARICOM had informed Suriname that it recognised the existing boundaries of Guyana "and your claims to any part of this territory would have to be dealt with in a legitimate and internationally recognised way."

As regards the contention by Suriname's Ambassador to Guyana, Dr Humphrey Hasrat, that his country had agreed in 1995 to the boundaries but once a full member was free to contest the boundaries, President Jagdeo said that he would not dignify that remark with a comment. However, he said that it had not been raised officially at the talks and if it had, would have been roundly condemned by the Heads.

He observed too that the Surinamese people were being grossly misinformed by the government and that it was up to the media to help both the Surinamese and Guyanese people to understand the issues.

Also, according to the President, the information being put out by the Surinamese authorities was part of its campaign to change its image of aggressor by resurrecting old issues.

He asserted that the action which Guyana took in 1969 in the New River Area was unavoidable, explaining that it was Suriname which had invaded Guyana's territory and had been repelled by this country's army.

Rohee called it a "subtle campaign" to resurrect the claim to the New River Triangle; re-establish its position with respect to the Corentyne River; and reassert its position with respect to the maritime boundary.

About Guyana's stance on the Corentyne River, the foreign minister said that Guyana's contention was that the thalweg (midstream) should constitute the border between the two countries. Suriname's position was that the border was the high water mark on the left bank. Rohee explained that according to this, if the mark extended past several villages along the Corentyne coast, then that was the boundary.

Stressing that he was not accepting it as such, Rohee said that even if it were so, the people were still entitled to use the river as was the case with similar border rivers in other parts of the world. Rohee accused the Surinamese of attempting to re-write history and suggested that they visit The Hague where the records of the boundaries discussion between Great Britain and Holland were stored to acquaint themselves with the facts.

Suriname has been seizing the boats of Guyanese fishermen and charging their owners with fishing illegally in Surinamese waters. In the latest case reported in yesterday's Stabroek News, a Guyanese fisherman whose boat was seized was fined US$2,000 and President Jagdeo said that Rohee had been asked to investigate the matter.

President Jagdeo refuted another claim by Suriname that it had protested the issue of the licence to CGX since 1998 and had only known of it through the Internet. Ambassador Hasrat had said that his staff had protested the concession which had been granted as being in Suriname's territory when it received information about it from the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission.

President Jagdeo said that since 1958 no licence had been granted by Suriname in that area but Guyana has. Also, he said that while CGX was in the area doing its survey, it had applied to Suriname to enter its waters to turn the exploration vessel around. Suriname had subsequently given permission on the condition that the vessel would turn off the seismic instruments whilst the vessel was traversing Surinamese territory, a clear recognition that the area CGX was operating in was Guyana's.

Also, President Jagdeo said, he had informed his CARICOM colleagues that Suriname would have known about the licence which had been issued since CGX had been raising money on the capital market for over a year.

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