Guyana, Suriname talks continue in Kingston
Signing of rig row MOU now on today
`Minor' details to be hammered out

By Patrick Denny in Montego Bay
Stabroek News
July 17, 2000

The planned signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in Jamaica between Guyana and Suriname on a disputed maritime area was last night put off to this morning as difficulties continued to beset the two sides despite exhaustive talks.

Stabroek News was told last night that barring minor details the MOU to set the paramaters for the resolution of the maritime border dispute between the two countries would be signed at the office of Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson this morning.

Hanging in the balance is the fate of the CGX Energy Inc oil rig which is sitting in the Atlantic Ocean awaiting the outcome of the talks. The Canadian company CGX had set Saturday as the outside date for a decision but was yesterday still hanging on hopeful of a positive outcome. Sources close to the Guyana team told Stabroek News last night that the return of the CGX rig to the Eagle site, from which it was bounced by Surinamese gunboats on June 3rd, remains non-negotiable and the MOU was expected to reflect this.

This fifth round of drawn-out talks between the two sides facilitated by Patterson will go into a fourth day today after only Friday and Saturday were originally set aside.

Intense dialogue between the two sides brokered by Jamaican facilitators who shuttled between the two sides failed to break the stalemate yesterday but a late afternoon meeting with Prime Minister Patterson put the talks back on track at around 6 pm and the signing is planned for today though there is no absolute certainty.

Before he left Montego Bay just after midday yesterday, President Bharrat Jagdeo, who led Guyana's delegation to the talks, told reporters that "since the first day (Friday) and yesterday (Saturday) when Prime Minister Patterson held his press conference we have not so far been able to agree on the Memorandum of Understanding". However, he said "work was still going on and I hope for the best". Suriname's President Jules Wijdenbosch had left the plush 400-acre seaside resort at the Half Moon Golf, Tennis and Beach resort in Montego Bay - where the talks were being held - on Saturday afternoon. Both presidents had made preparations to leave after Patterson had announced earlier on Saturday that a draft MOU had been agreed and that the technical teams would complete the talks and proceed with the signing. Sources last night said the Surinamese may need to contact Wijdenbosch for final clarifications prior to the signing today.

President Jagdeo has gone on record as saying that while he was cautiously optimistic at the outcome of the talks he was "in no rush for a settlement at any cost".

Yesterday's discussions between the technical teams was facilitated by Jamaica's Minister of External Trade, Anthony Hylton and he was aided by Jamaican Solicitor-General Kenneth Rattray, an acknowledged expert on the Law of the Sea Convention on which basis the MOU is being composed.

Hylton stepped in for Patterson when Presidents Jagdeo and Wijdenbosch agreed that their foreign ministers, Clement Rohee and Errol Snijders would finalise the MOU.

Jamaica's facilitating role was as a result from a request of the two presidents when the issue was formally raised by Guyana at the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting in Canouan, St Vincent and the Grenadines where it was discussed in caucus followed by meetings between the two in Patterson's presence.

The Jamaican Prime Minister at the Saturday press conference had said that the maritime issues entailed consideration of the provisions of the Law of the Sea Convention to which both Guyana and Suriname are signatories. The maritime boundary was one of two issues Georgetown and Paramaribo agreed would have been considered in their discussions.

Patterson had pointed out that the Convention provides for settlement of disputes arising from the delimitation of the borders between contiguous states. Article 74 of the Convention addresses this issue and provides for joint exploitation of the resources in the disputed area as a practical settlement until ownership of the area has been finally resolved.

Guyana had forwarded variants of this proposal in previous rounds of talks including joint superintendence of all activities in the area, the equitable distribution of the benefits of drilling as well as the sharing of data generated by exploratory drilling activities on a transparent basis.

CGX's Chief Executive Officer Kerry Sully, who kept a low profile at Half Moon during the talks, told Stabroek News yesterday that a decision would be made by his directors at the end of the Jamaica round of talks on the rig. He said that for the past week or so, his company had been engaged in demobilisation as well as mobilisation activities in preparation for any decision resulting from the talks, Sully and fellow directors John Cullen and Denis Clement arrived at the Half Moon resort on Thursday.

CGX has its eyes firmly set on the Guyana-Suriname Basin which is said to have a recoverable potential of 15 billion barrels of oil according to a recent US Geological Services survey. A secondary site that it drilled at Horseshoe West following its eviction from its preferred Eagle location came up dry. It was drilled to a depth of 12,500 feet in 29 days.

Sully said that the announcement that Horseshoe West was dry did cause some reduction in the value of its stock but he observed that CGX's shareholders were focused on the turbidite formation at the Eagle location which has a far greater oil-find probability.

The Guyana technical delegation comprises Rohee, Ambassadors Rudy Collins and Elizabeth Harper, Commissioner of Geology and Mines, Brian Sucre, Commissioner of Lands and Surveys, A. K. Datadin, former foreign minister Rashleigh Jackson and attorney-at-law Dr Barton Scotland.

The Suriname team includes Snijders, Natural Resources Minister Errol Alibux, Suriname's Ambassador to Guyana, Humphrey Hasrat, Staatsolie Board Chairman, Tjon Kie Sim, Ambassador Henk Alimohamed, Suriname Armed Forces Head Jerry Slijngaard and two representatives of the incoming coalition government, Henry Illes and Cor Papigop.

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