Crucial oil rig talks on today in Jamaica

By Patrick Denny in Montego Bay
Stabroek News
July 14, 2000

Guyana and Suriname are to resume discussions today on the return of the CGX oil rig to its drilling location from which it was evicted by Surinamese gunboats and Jamaican officials were yesterday optimistic of an amicable settlement.

Jamaica's Prime Minister, P.J. Patterson, at the request of CARICOM is to facilitate the two days of talks being held at the Conference Centre of the posh, secluded Half Moon Resort at Rose Hall, just outside Montego Bay.

Patterson was due to meet the leaders of the two delegations, President Bharrat Jagdeo and Suriname President, Jules Wijdenbosch last night, ahead of today's meeting. There had been some confusion as to Patterson's role in the talks as Suriname had said that he would not be at the meeting, while Guyana said that he would, based on a decision taken at the CARICOM summit held in Canouan, St Vincent and the Grenadines last week.

The talks at the presidential level followed the break down of dialogue at the ministerial level that was held in Port-of-Spain, Georgetown and Paramaribo. The issues to be discussed as agreed in Canouan include joint exploration and utilisation of the petroleum resources of the disputed area as well as its joint management. Guyana had made these proposals at the ministerial level when the two sides met in Suriname, in an attempt to break the impasse while at the same time agreeing to fast track the discussions of the wider border question. The border discussions are to be monitored by CARICOM Chairman, St Vincent's Prime Minister, Sir James Mitchell and the CARICOM Secretariat.

The discussions are taking place against the background of the announcement by CGX Energy Inc that if a decision was not reached at the talks its rig would leave the Guyana-Suriname basin believed to have a potential recovery of some 15 billion barrels of oil. Once the rig leaves the area, CGX said that it would be about two years before another one could be leased. CGX had also said that it would vigorously defend its commercial interests in the disputed area. CGX made the announcement after a well drilled at an alternative site, Horseshoe west came up empty.

Jamaican government officials yesterday voiced optimism that the talks will at the very least bring the disputing parties much closer to a positive resolution, a CANA report said.

"The Prime Minister is not the kind of man who enters negotiations of this sort if he's not feeling hopeful," Patterson's special assistant Delano Franklyn told CANA.

Jamaica's Foreign Minister Dr Paul Robertson had told journalists on Wednesday that the host government was "optimistic" that the weekend meeting would end in a "positive result".

He described a quick resolution as "necessary ... quite frankly the resources that are likely to be there [in the disputed border area] are vast and would be very critical to the future development of the region and it would be a great thing for this thing [to be resolved]."

President Jagdeo is on record as saying also that he was "cautiously optimistic" about the meeting in Jamaica, he wished to make it clear that he was "in no rush for a settlement at any cost".

Robertson stressed that Jamaica's role would be "purely facilitatory".

Patterson and Jamaica government officials and technocrats will serve as "go-betweens" and will also attempt to provide technical help when needed, CANA said.

Robertson reminded journalists that Jamaica had considerable experience in relation to issues involving delimitation having in recent years agreed and signed a Maritime Delimitation Agreement with Colombia.

"The [Jamaica/Colombia] model is a very interesting one... involving common areas where there are rules [allowing] those areas to be explored and whatever is there is exploited [in common].

"It may be that our technical people can give them some help in regard to how we handled our discussions with Colombia.

"There are also some technical/legal issues which our Solicitor General and others in the government can give advice on...," Robertson said.

Robertson suggested that Jamaica's position as a "good and trusted friend with both countries" and Patterson's background as "a former foreign minister, a legal mind [Patterson is a Queen's Counsel] and a very trusted person in the developing world," could assist the process towards a satisfactory resolution.

He also reminded journalists that Jamaica's current position as a member of the United Nations' Security Council meant that "we do have some facility with difficult issues".

The two delegations touched down yesterday with the Surinamese team arriving by private charter during the morning. The size of that delegation is 25, but includes a very large media corps. Among the members are Foreign Minister, Errol Snijders; Natural Resources Minister, Errol Alibux; and Suriname's ambassador to Guyana, Dr Humprhey Hasrat. The Surinamese are ensconced in four villas at the exclusive resort.

The Guyana delegation arrived in Montego Bay shortly after 4 pm and President Jagdeo was met at the airport by Minister in the Office of the President, Derek Kendall; Mayor of Montego Bay, Hugh Solomon; an unabashed admirer of the President, Clarence Nelson and Speaker of the Jamaican Parliament, Violet Neilsen. The delegation includes Foreign Minister, Clement Rohee; Ambassadors Rudy Collins and Elizabeth Harper; Commissioner of Geology and Mines, Brian Sucre; Commissioner, Lands and Surveys, A K Datadin; former foreign minister, Rashleigh Jackson and attorney-at-law, Dr Barton Scotland.

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