Guyana, Suriname to sign MOU today

by Patrick Denny in Montego Bay
Stabroek News
July 16, 2000

Guyana and Suriname are to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) reflecting the agreements they have reached in their discussions on issues related to the area of overlap in the Exclusive Econnomic Zone (EEZ). The details of the agreement are to be finalized by their respective foreign ministers, Clement Rohee of Guyana and Errol Snijders of Suriname, and will be signed by them and witnessed by a member of the Jamaica government today. Copies of the MOU are then to be made publicly available.

Jamaica's prime minister, P J Patterson has been playing a facilitating role in the discussions between the two sides. He did so at the request of the Guyana and Suriname presidents when the issue was discussed at the recent CARICOM summit in Canouan, St Vincent.

The discussions held here on Friday and yesterday were a continuation of the those which had begun in Port-of-Spain and then continued in Georgetown and Paramaribo, followed by talks between Presidents Jagdeo and Wijdenbosch in Canouan. The issue had been placed on the CARICOM agenda at the request of Guyana and was discussed by the CARICOM Heads in caucus during their meeting.

Announcing the planned signing of the agreement at a press conference yesterday, Prime Minister Patterson told reporters that a draft text was now available and it was hoped that the final text would be completed and signed some time today. He said that the services of the facilitating team which he headed would be available to the two foreign ministers. Neither President Jagdeo nor President Wijdenbosch will be present for the signing. The latter left for Suriname following yesterday's talks, while Jagdeo leaves today for Trinidad and Tobago where he is due to attend a meeting on infrastructural financing.

Patterson, who hosted the press conference refused to divulge any details of the agreement asking reporters to await the press conference after the signing when its provisions would be announced.

The talks began on Friday and Patterson said that having identified the issues the discussions continued yesterday. He said that the two issues which had arisen for consideration were: "the territorial dispute on the border question which was age old," and the "maritime boundary between both countries."

The territorial dispute is of very long standing, Patterson observed, but that in looking at the maritime dispute "one had to do [so] against the background of territorial claims which would delimit the boundaries of the territorial sea and within the context of maritime legislation and the provisions of the International Law of the Sea Convention and establishment of the Exclusive Economic Zone."

He noted that Guyana and Suriname were contiguous states and the convention "recognizes that when it comes to the Exclusive Economic Zone questions about delimitation are bound to arise."

Patterson said too that some of the issues which had been discussed and agreed needed legal refinement and had to be put in the proper contextual framework. As such he said that Presidents Jagdeo and Wijdenbosch had agreed to take the opportunity of the presence of their delegations to bring these two matters to finality in so far as the processes and procedures were concerned.

The discussions here took place against the background of the announcement by the Canadian based CGX company, that the oil rig it had leased, and which had been evicted from the Eagle drilling site in Guyana's waters by Suriname gunboats on June 3, would leave the Guyana-Suriname basin if no agreement were reached yesterday. The recoverable potential of the basin had been estimated at 15 billion barrels of oil by the US Geological Service during a recent survey. CGX had said that once the rig had left the area, 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. Its announcement came after a well drilled at an alternative site, Horseshoe west, came up empty.

The two days of talks were held at the Conference Centre of the up-market, secluded Half Moon Resort at Rose Hall, just outside Montego Bay. Jamaican government officials had voiced optimism that the talks would at the very least bring the disputing parties much closer to a positive resolution. President Jagdeo had gone on record as saying that he was "cautiously optimistic" about the meeting in Jamaica; he also made it clear that he was "in no rush for a settlement at any cost". Jamaica has had considerable experience in relation to issues involving delimitation having in recent years 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," Jamaica's Foreign Minister Paul Robertson had said.

The Surinamese delegation included two new faces, former ambassador to Guyana, Henri Illes, who is a member of the Surinamese Labour Party, and Cor Papigop, a member of the National Party of Suriname and former Minister of Education. Both parties are components of the New Front coalition which will take office in another month. The other members of the delegation at the table with President Wijdenbosch were Staatsolie board chairman Tjon Kie Sim; Natural Resources Minister, Errol Alibux; Foreign Minister, Errol Snijders; and Ambassador Henk Alimohamed. Among the other members of the delegation was Suriname armed forces head Col Jerry Slijngaard, whose appearance in military uniform at the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting caused President Jagdeo to raise an objection.

President Jagdeo was flanked on his left by Ambassador Rudy Collins and attorney-at-law Dr Barton Scotland and on his right by Foreign Minister, Clement Rohee and former Foreign Minister, Rashleigh Jackson.

The size of the delegations at the negotiating table with the two presidents was determined at a meeting Jagdeo, Wijdenbosch and Patterson attended on Wednesday evening.

Follow the goings-on in Guyana
in Guyana Today