Declaration on joint exploitation signed
Border commissions to look at best practices
Stabroek News
January 30, 2002

The presidents of Guyana and Suriname yesterday signed a declaration to support cooperation in a number of areas including joint exploitation of their marine resources.

This is seen as a key step forward in easing the row that erupted in 2000 following Suriname's armed eviction of an oil exploration rig from Guyana's waters. Suriname had said the rig was in its waters and several rounds of talks between the two countries failed to elicit a breakthrough.

The agreement was signed by the two leaders at a joint press conference they convened after their second round of talks ended yesterday at the Surinamese President's office.

Speaking with reporters after the declaration was signed, President Bharrat Jagdeo explained that he and President Ronald Venetiaan had agreed to have the Border Commissions set up a sub-committee to look at best practices and modalities that could assist the governments in taking a decision regarding eventual joint exploration. The committee is to submit its decision before the commissions meet in May. That meeting is to be held in Georgetown. Proposals for discussion at this meeting have to be submitted to both sides by the end of April, according to an agreement by the commissions at a meeting earlier this month in Paramaribo.

And in reference to the heavy criticism to which he was subjected by the opposition parties and the other groups over the proposal, President Venetiaan reminded that all agreements have to be submitted to Parliament for approval.

President Jagdeo - on a two-day official visit to Suriname - said that while there was no legal obligation to do so, he had given a commitment to deal with the matter in a bipartisan manner and it would be one of the issues to be addressed by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs established by recent amendments to the constitution.

He contended that while there had been no criticism from the parliamentary opposition in Guyana, other groups were complaining that he was being too soft in proposing joint exploration for oil without prejudice to the outcome of the border dispute.

He refused to be drawn into giving a time frame by which joint exploration would start, pointing out that the only deadline that had been set was for the sub-committee of the Border Commissions, which is to report before May.

Asked by the Surinamese about the presence of soldiers in the New River Triangle, President Jagdeo said there were soldiers there and had been for a long time. Suriname claims the New River Triangle. Jagdeo said that the two governments had set plans in train to deal with these issues and would not be drawn into allowing one issue to mar the progress that had been made in the two days of talks.

President Venetiaan said, too, that he had brought the New River Triangle to the attention of President Jagdeo as a concern of Suriname but that there was no further discussion of the matter.

President Venetiaan said that the two sides were trying to resolve their border dispute at bilateral level, but did not rule out third party involvement, if necessary, some time down the road.

When he introduced the declaration, President Venetiaan said he believed that the pooling of the potential of the people of Guyana and Suriname was in accordance with the spirit of CARICOM and would provide both countries with more opportunities for development.

President Jagdeo added that he knew his visit had heightened awareness of some issues related to the border dispute, but he assured the Surinamese people that this visit was for the sole purpose of exploring opportunities for cooperation for the benefit of his people and the people of Suriname.

He asserted that the time for senseless conflict had passed and that Guyana and Suriname must move forward and use their resources for the benefit of their peoples. He said that in doing so they must look for ways in which both sides received maximum benefit from the agreements.

President Jagdeo urged the press to support this process, arguing that if they used their influence in the wrong way, it could jeopardise the future of the two countries.

Other agreements in the joint declaration are the decision to give consideration to designate Ogle as a point of entry for small aircraft from Suriname and for the Frequency Management Authorities to meet and discuss collaboration in the area of frequency management. They endorsed the establishment of a Joint Security Programme and a Working Group on Trans-boundary Crimes, encouraged the drafting of a Mutual Legal Agreement and a Maritime law Enforcement Agreement as well as cooperation programmes between law enforcement officers and the publication of immigration requirements of both countries. They further agreed that cooperation on environmental matters would include coastal zone management within the context of existing multilateral environmental conventions.

They also agreed to endorse efforts to enhance cooperation in the areas of trade, studies to attract investments, the establishment of joint ventures and linkages between the private sectors of both countries. With regard to the latter, Stabroek News understands that the Surinamese business sector indicated an interest in coming to Guyana to observe the collaboration between the private sector and the government to see if it could be adopted there and take advantage of opportunities in the CARICOM region.

President Jagdeo wound up his visit with a meeting with the Guyanese community. He is to leave Suriname today for Skeldon.

With President Jagdeo on his visit were Foreign Minister, Rudy Insanally; Director General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Elisabeth Harper; Private Sector Chairman, Brian James; Petroleum Manager at the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, Newell Dennison; Presidential Adviser, Kellawan Lall; and Head of the Frontiers Division at the Foreign Ministry, Keith George. Guyana's ambassador to Suriname, Karshanjee Arjun joined the delegation for the talks with the Surinamese President.