Oil rig to leave
Suriname denied existence of maritime dispute at talks

Stabroek News
July 20, 2000

The CGX Energy Inc oil rig is to leave the Guyana-Suriname basin as a consequence of the failure of the talks between the two countries in Jamaica.

President Bharrat Jagdeo confirmed yesterday that he had spoken with CGX about the outcome of the Montego Bay negotiations and had been informed by CGX's Chief Executive Officer, Kerry Sully, that the rig would be removed in conformity with its announcement before the commencement of the talks in Montego Bay.

A statement by the company announcing the departure of the rig was to have been issued by CGX from its Toronto office last night. Up to press time the statement had not been received by Stabroek News.

President Jagdeo told reporters that the negotiations in Jamaica foundered because Suriname refused to address the issue of greatest importance to Guyana--the return of the CGX oil rig to its drilling position from which it was evicted by Surinamese gun boats.

Briefing reporters at a mid-afternoon press conference yesterday, he stressed that no talks on the issue would be held with Suriname until the new administration took over. He said that he did not believe that the negotiating position adopted by the Jules Wijdenbosch administration represented the views of past Surinamese administrations or that of the incoming government which should take office within another month.

According to an agreement arrived at in Canouan, St Vincent during the CARICOM summit earlier this month the return of the CGX rig was one of the outstanding issues to be discussed in Montego Bay. The other was the modality for sharing the benefits of exploratory drilling activities to be undertaken in the area. President Jagdeo said that the issue failed to attract any significant forward movement.

"The reason for this was that Suriname, at various stages of the negotiations, denied the existence of a maritime dispute with Guyana and put forward the specious argument that any solution in respect of the rig had to be premised on the acceptance of this unilateral assertion by Suriname," Jagdeo said.

"This development meant in effect that any progress in the negotiations had to be dependent on an acknowledgement by Guyana that the maritime area, recognised by all parties including Suriname as the area of dispute, was now to be regarded as solely within the control of Suriname."

President Jagdeo said that when Jamaica's Prime Minister, PJ Patterson, announced at the press briefing on Saturday--the second day of the formal talks--that attempts would be made to refine and conclude a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), the issue of the rig had not yet been addressed.

He noted that Guyana had made it known from the beginning of the negotiations that while it "was prepared, in the interest of expediting the discussions to examine each issue separately, no final agreement could be reached unless there was agreement on all the issues."

President Jagdeo confirmed that the Montego Bay negotiations did not focus in any significant way on the territorial dispute between the two countries as it had been recognised in Canouan "that settlement of the long-standing territorial dispute would have to be dealt with separately from the current differences, but in an expeditious manner."

He said that what was discussed in Montego Bay in relation to the issue were the terms of reference of the commission to discuss the territorial issue, the way it was to be described and the composition of the teams which would sit on it.

Suriname's position, in the media at least, has been that the return of the CGX rig had to be dealt with in the context of the settlement of the territorial dispute.

President Jagdeo added that in denying that there was a dispute about control of the area, the current Surinamese negotiators "were patently disregarding the facts of history and indeed its own previous acknowledgement of the facts."

He pointed out that the statement the two countries had issued jointly in Canouan at the CARICOM summit "as well as its reference to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, not only underscored the existence of an area in dispute, but also identified procedures for the resolution of such dispute-- procedures which not only formed an essential part of the joint statement but were also integral to the current negotiations.

"Suriname was adamant in its refusal to consider the return of the oil rig within the context of a framework for modalities of joint utilisation and exploitation in the disputed area. We were not prepared to compromise on the above."

President Jagdeo said that in 1989 former presidents Desmond Hoyte and Ramsaywack Shankar recognised the area as the cause for potential conflict and decided that pending the settlement of the border, the two countries should develop modalities for joint utilisation.

"Despite a signed Memorandum of Understanding in 1991 by plenipotentiaries [Dr Cedric] Grant and [Dr John] Kolader, in which it was agreed that the parties would develop and adopt a framework for joint utilisation, Suriname reneged on that agreement and refused to enter into such negotiations." As a consequence, President Jagdeo said, "Guyana was forced to conclude that no further progress could be made in pursuing the negotiations with the representatives of the current Suriname government.

"It remains our hope that under the new administration we would be able to advance in a constructive way, further negotiations leading to a successful resolution of this problem to our mutual interest."

President Jagdeo, explaining the basis of his optimism that a new Suriname administration would be more inclined to reach an agreement on joint utilisation, said the negotiations with a new government in Suriname would not involve the issue of the return of the CGX rig.

Pressed as to his assessment of the effects on the area as a result of the removal of the CGX rig, President Jagdeo said that it would make investment difficult to attract both in the disputed areas and the areas not in dispute on both sides of the border.

About the CGX concession which was at the centre of the impasse, President Jagdeo said that Sully had reassured him of CGX's continuing interest in the area, its preparedness to return to the area at the earliest opportunity and its intention to vigorously protect its commercial interest.

President Jagdeo also confirmed that CARICOM had a continuing role to play in the bilateral negotiations between the two countries, adding that he intended to keep the issue on the agenda of CARICOM. He confirmed receipt of a letter from Patterson asking that the two governments name competent teams to engage in discussions to settle the modalities for undertaking exploration activities in the disputed area. The President said that he intended to respond to the letter later in the day, would make his reply public when he was assured that it had been received by Patterson.

The President said that while continuing the negotiations at the bilateral level with the involvement of CARICOM, he will "initiate a process of national consultation on involving a third party in the border matter should border discussions not yield early results.

"We feel that our case is sufficiently strong to get an outcome through a third party that would be favourable to Guyana."

Explaining the consultation process he was planning to pursue, Jagdeo said that it would involve discussions with the political parties, civic society and the Guyanese people at large. He noted that this was necessary as the government was taking the dispute to another level and was consistent with the approach governments of the day in this country had always taken in considering issues of national interest.

With the prospect of moving the dispute to the multilateral level, President Jagdeo said that he had asked the ministers of Foreign Affairs, Information and Education "to intensify the dissemination of information on the historical and current facts on the border issue to our people, more especially our school population."

President Jagdeo also reaffirmed the government's readiness to take whatever action was necessary to defend the country's territorial integrity though admitting that it had no military presence in the disputed area.

He stated that Guyana had always had the ability to successfully conduct an aggressive diplomatic offensive whenever it became necessary to do so. He said that it had to develop this capacity because it was a small country with claims on its eastern and western borders.

President Jagdeo said too that no neighbour should be encouraged by Suriname's action as Suriname would have to deal with the image which it now had in the international community as a result of these actions. He said that the Surinamese negotiators had complained of the image their country now had in the United Nations, the Conference of Islamic States, the Caribbean Community and other multilateral fora. President Jagdeo asserted that Guyana intended to continue to inform the international community about the facts of the June 3, incident.

He also reaffirmed Guyana's commitment to pursuing the resolution of differences through diplomatic channels, explaining that force brought suffering to the innocent which he would always try to avoid. But he also warned that Guyana's willingness to negotiate must not be misinterpreted for weakness as its security forces were well trained and prepared to defend the territorial integrity of the country.

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