Commonwealth backs Guyana on border rows

Stabroek News
September 15, 2000

UNITED NATIONS, (Reuters) - The Commonwealth of mainly former British colonies yesterday expressed its support for member states Belize and Guyana, both embroiled in border spats with more powerful neighbours.

``This is essentially the Commonwealth showing support for two of its members involved in boundary disputes in their own region,'' Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon told a news conference.

He was speaking after two separate Commonwealth ministerial meetings discussed rows between Guyana and both Venezuela and Suriname on one hand and Belize and Guatemala on the other.

McKinnon said it was clear that threats to territorial integrity sapped the energy of the nations involved.

Venezuela, which claims the mineral-rich Essequibo region of Guyana, is angry that the government in Georgetown has granted a U.S. firm the right to build a commercial rocket site in the disputed area.

The century-old border spat between Suriname and Guyana flared up in June when two Surinamese gunboats evicted a Canadian company's offshore oil rig exploring in the disputed area on South America's northeastern shoulder.

``The claims by Suriname and Venezuela on Guyana would - if they were to succeed - leave Guyana with only 20 percent of its territory,'' said McKinnon.

Guatemala's long-standing border dispute with Belize dates back to its historic claims for access to the Caribbean Sea. In March Guatemala expelled Belize's ambassador for allegedly seeking to aid the return of three Belizean soldiers who crossed the border.

A group of Common-wealth countries has been set up to monitor developments in the border controversy between Guyana and Venezuela.

This development comes in the wake of attempts by Caracas to interfere with oil concessions granted by Guyana and its vow to oppose the Beal spaceport deal. Guyana's President Bharrat Jagdeo and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez recently met at the summit of South American heads in Brasilia and agreed to expedite the work of a high-level bilateral commission.

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