Oil exploration back on agenda
Stabroek News
January 9, 2002

The oil exploration issue which sparked a heated row two years ago between Guyana and Suriname has been handed to the cooperation council between the two countries and their national border commissions for further dicussions.

This was disclosed yesterday at a press conference held by Guyana's Foreign Minister Rudy Insanally and his visiting Surinamese counterpart Marie Levens.

Clearing up the dispute has been high on this country's agenda ever since Surinamese gunboats evicted a rig hired by Canadian oil explorer CGX from Guyana's waters on June 3, 2000.

The Guyana-Suriname Cooperation Council and the National Border Commissions are scheduled to meet on January 15 in Paramaribo and their conclusions are expected to form the substance of the discussions when President Bharrat Jagdeo meets his Surinamese counterpart, Ronald Venetiaan in the Surinamese capital on January 31. Guyana is hoping that this meeting will allow the resumption of oil exploration by CGX pending a final agreement between the two countries which have had a longstanding border dispute.

Insanally sees the move as the opening of a new era in which both countries will explore and try to maximize cooperation in a vast number of areas including health, the environment, science, sports, culture, transportation, fisheries, exploration and exploitation of marine resources including oil. He said that there was now political commitment by both presidents to maximize cooperation in a vast number of fields.

Last week Prime Minister Sam Hinds noted government's frustration at being unable to exploit oil resources off its eastern and western borders and expressed the hope that President Jagdeo's visit to Suriname would set the stage for a resolution that would allow CGX's exploration to proceed.

Following their discussions earlier in the day, Insanally and his Surinamese counterpart, Marie Levens told reporters at a joint press conference yesterday at the GTV 11 studios, Homestretch Avenue that their presidents had mandated them to set up a framework for sustainable cooperation in a wide number of fields including oil exploration.

Insanally said that while no timetables had been agreed for the various areas of cooperation to be set in motion, both foreign ministers, as the titular heads of the council and commissions, would be expected to ensure that they were infused with a new dynamism.

He explained that the emphasis would be on identifying areas, which offered the prospects for quick implementation so as to create the climate of trust and confidence to facilitate even greater cooperation.

Levens echoed her Guyanese counterpart's sentiments, stressing that the impact of the areas of cooperation already in train such as collaboration at the level of the negotiations at the World Trade Organisation, university exchanges and the closeness of the two countries' position on environmental issues should not be underestimated.

However, she declined to be drawn into commenting on the CGX issue, about which she said she aware but was not an expert. She said that the experts from both countries on the council and commission would discuss it.

Insanally and Levens said that in trying to resolve the issue both sides would look at the historical experiences of countries that had addressed similar problems. The Surinamese minister also stated her government's preference for dealing with the issue on a bilateral basis as it would other problems that might arise from the contiguity of their borders. She explained that both countries were mature enough to seek a solution to their problems.

In relation to the CGX issue and the involvement of CARICOM to which both countries belonged, Levens pointed out that the role played by Jamaican Prime Minister, P.J. Patterson in the dispute between the two countries was that of facilitator and not that of a mediator. She said that any country could be a facilitator but that the two countries would name a mediator if they thought it necessary.

About the discussions, which had taken place in 2000 following the ejection of the CGX oil rig, Levens said Suriname would be looking at some of the suggestions that had been made during those negotiations. She said that her country's border commission was already engaged in this exercise to see what possibilities could be offered for a solution.

Insanally said that the Cooperation Council would revisit the unsettled fisheries agreement.

The Surinamese minister was accompanied to the press conference by Surinamese ambassador to Guyana, Manorma Soeknandan. Levens, who arrived here on Monday, is scheduled to leave today after a full day of activities yesterday which included a courtesy call on President Jagdeo at State House.