Guyana to mull other options
-Rohee hints at Law of the Sea Tribunal
Patterson urges return to negotiations

Stabroek News
July 19, 2000

After five rounds of deadlock, Foreign Minister Clement Rohee yesterday signalled that Guyana would look for other options in its raging oil rig row with Suriname and he hinted at the Law of the Sea Tribunal as one option.

He made the remarks in an interview with the Jamaica Observer newspaper in Kingston where talks between the two sides stalemated.

Meanwhile, Jamaica's Prime Minister, PJ Patterson wants Guyana and Suriname to continue their discussions on the resolution of their maritime border dispute as a matter of urgency.

Patterson, who facilitated four days of talks between the two countries over the last weekend, wants the leaders to each appoint a competent team with a mandate to negotiate and conclude an agreement for the joint exploitation and utilisation of the resources in the disputed territory.

But while Guyana sees a continuing role for Jamaica as facilitator. Foreign Minister Rohee indicated that Guyana had to begin looking for other remedies, including moving the dispute to the multilateral level. The tribunal established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, based in Hamburg, Germany was mentioned as one such remedy. Rohee said it was time for a national debate on this issue.

A statement from Patterson's office yesterday, said that though disappointed, the Jamaican leader had, in letters to President Bharrat Jagdeo and Suriname's President Jules Wijdenbosch, suggested that they each designate a competent team "which is authorised to engage, as a matter of urgency, in discussions to settle the modalities for undertaking exploration activities in the (disputed) area."

The statement said that despite the breakdown "considerable advance has been made in fashioning the process of a regulation of the territorial border dispute and the determination of the maritime boundaries between both countries."

Patterson has proposed too that they both "suggest where and how soon such a meeting would be most convenient," adding, "Jamaica stands prepared to offer whatever services might be useful in facilitating those discussions, as we believe it is in the interest of both countries and the Caribbean Community that there be an early resolution."

In the interview with the Jamaica Observer, Rohee praised Patterson's chairmanship of the meeting, stating that he did "an excellent and even-handed job of steering the talks, relying heavily on the rule of international law and equity."

However, Rohee blamed the failure to reach an agreement which would have facilitated joint exploitation and utilisation on the intransigence on the part of the "outgoing Suriname government with its entrenched, dogmatic and siege mentality."

At the CARICOM Heads of Government Summit in Canouan, St Vincent, where Jagdeo and Wijdenbosch first held talks, Wijdenbosch had asked for time to bring the incoming New Front coalition up to speed on the negotiations. The negotiating team in Montego Bay included two representatives from parties making up the coalition--Henri Illes from the Suriname Labour Party and Cor Pagingop from the largest party in the NF coalition, the National Party of Suriname, which is led by Ronald Venetiaan who takes over from Wijdenbosch at the end of the month. Though expressing willingness to have the use of the good offices of Jamaica in a CARICOM-promoted bilateral process, Rohee observed that Guyana had to look at moving to the multilateral level in seeking a resolution. "We have to start a big debate in our country on moving this issue to the multilateral level. We have to debate whether we go to the Tribunal."

The failed discussions were held at the plush South Coast Jamaican resort, Half Moon Golf, Tennis and Beach Club, where Patterson continued his role as facilitator as asked by Jagdeo and Wijdenbosch. Patterson in his efforts to nudge the two sides towards agreement urged them to utilise the provisions of Article 74 of the Law of the Sea Convention that allow states with opposite and adjacent coasts "to enter into provisional arrangements of a practical nature" without prejudice to their claims. Under this arrangement both sides would share the proceeds from the exploitation and utilisation of the resources of the area until a final agreement was reached on the delimitation of their territorial seas and Exclusive Economic Zones. It was a proposal which CARICOM backed as it saw exploitation of the petroleum resources of the Guyana-Suriname basin, estimated to have a recoverable potential of 15 billion barrels of oil, radically transforming the economies of the two countries and the region. Guyana had made such a proposal as well as another calling for the reactivation of the Guyana/Suriname National Border Commission which would fast track the discussions on a settlement of the border dispute. This process, CARICOM had agreed, would be monitored by CARICOM Chairman Sir James Mitchell, prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines and the CARICOM Secretariat.

Joint utilisation, the territorial dispute and the unhindered return of the CGX rig to the drilling position from which it was ejected by Surinamese gunboats on June 3 were said to be provisions of the draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on which the two sides failed to reach agreement.

Sources close to the negotiations have told reporters that acceptance of the MOU foundered on Guyana's refusal to cede sole authority to Suriname to issue licences in the disputed area and Suriname's insistence that it would only consider joint exploitation and utilisation if it was the sole licensing authority.

These sources said it was understood by both sides that failure to agree on any one point in the memorandum would scuttle it.

The sources also referred to Suriname's negotiating style pointing to its retreat from understandings reached in the presence of President Wijdenbosch, when they were raised again as substantive issues in his absence.

They said that that was the reason why the discussions led by Rohee and his Surinamese counterpart, Errol Snijders, on Saturday evening turned out to be an eight-hour session running from 8:30 pm to around 4:00 am on Sunday. They were kept at the table by Patterson as he had done earlier in the day when the Surinamese were prepared to leave Montego Bay at 1:00 pm without any agreement.

But to some observers this was not inconsistent with the position the Surinamese had taken from the start of the meeting; that the territory from which the rig was evicted was Surinamese territory, that they did not ask to be in Jamaica but that the meeting was requested by Guyana, that it was Guyana which had a dispute and not Suriname. With the two sides at a stand-off, crunch time has arrived for CGX, which would soon have to make a decision to let the rig leave the basin, abandoning for the time its not inconsiderable investment in the area. A statement from CGX's Toronto office, yesterday said that the company had noted the media reports of the failure of the talks but was awaiting formal notification from the government before taking a decision.

Before the start of the talks CGX had announced that it would let the rig leave the Guyana-Suriname basin if no agreement was reached last weekend allowing it to return unhindered to its drilling location. The decision to leave the basin was taken after a well sunk at a cost of US$8 million at an alternative location, Horseshoe West proved to be dry. CGX had estimated that Horseshoe West had a recoverable potential of 250 million barrels of oil. The well there was sunk in 29 days, more than a fortnight ahead of the time it was estimated that it would have taken to drill it.

President and CEO of CGX, Kerry Sully, who with CGX Director John Cullen, was in Montego Bay at the talks but kept a very low profile, told Stabroek News that while the failure of the Horseshoe target had hurt the value of the company its shareholders were still eager to drill the location from which it was evicted. That location, the Eagle target, CGX announced has an estimated recoverable potential of 850 million barrels of oil.

As a consequence he said that while preparations were underway to demobilise the rig, at the same time it was mobilising equipment in the event the go-ahead was received to drill at Eagle.

Sully could not be located yesterday and his Toronto office said that he could be on his way back to Canada from Jamaica. Sully had said on Sunday that he would convene a meeting of directors as soon as he returned to Canada to decide on whether the rig would leave the area. The estimated cost of keeping the rig on standby is in the region of US$80,000 a day.

President Jagdeo is scheduled to hold a press conference today on the Jamaica talks.

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