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Regional News

February 26, 2004
Guyana goes to UN to settle maritime row with Suriname
Stabroek News

Guyana yesterday moved to have its offshore maritime boundary with Suriname settled under the Law of the Sea convention saying it was fed up with years of delay tactics and aggression by Paramari-bo.

The move comes four months short of four years since Suriname gunboats evicted an oil rig from Guy-ana's waters sparking a simmering row with Paramaribo that several mediation efforts have failed to resolve.

Invoking Article 287 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Guyana has also sought provisional relief, pending the decision, from Guyanese fishermen being harassed in the Corentyne River and to be allowed to explore and exploit hydrocarbon and other resources in the area of its maritime territory that Suriname is claiming as its own. Guyana and Suri-name are in dispute over their offshore maritime zones, the Corentyne River and Guyana's New River Triangle. The move to the UN relates to the offshore zones.

In an address to the nation last evening, President Bharrat Jagdeo said his government "has formally submitted to the Government of Suriname a Statement of Claim invoking Article 287 and Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in relation to its maritime boundary dispute with Suriname."

Article 287 provides for parties to the UN Convention to have their maritime border disputes settled either by the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea, the Interna-tional Court of Justice, an arbitral tribunal constituted in accordance with Annex VII and a special arbitral tribunal constituted in accordance with Annex VII for one or more of the disputes specified therein.

The President said the statement was delivered to Suriname's Ambassador to Guyana, Manorma Soeknan-dan, on Tuesday evening for transmission to Paramaribo, and to the President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

Stabroek News was unable to contact staff at the Surinamese mission to confirm receipt of the Statement of Claim and ascertain when it was sent to Paramaribo. Stabroek News was also unable to contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paramaribo to confirm receipt of the claim.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan received notification of Guyana's action yesterday and the Caricom Secretary General Edwin Carrington has also been told.

In accordance with the Convention, Guyana has designated Professor Emeritus, New York University School of Law, Thomas Frank, as its arbitrator on the five-member panel. Professor Frank is a distinguished international law scholar and practitioner who has served as a judge ad hoc of the International Court of Justice.

Professor Frank and the Suriname nominee will consult to select two other members of the panel and the four of them will consult on the selection of a President of the Tribunal.

Former Guyana Attorney-General and Commonwealth Secretary-General Sir Shri-dath Ramphal heads the Guyanese legal team for these proceedings and the other members are Paul Reichler of the US firm Foley Hoag and Payan Akhavan of the Yale Law School.

Attorney-General Doodnauth Singh and other designated Guyana-based personnel willprovide legal and other support. Minister of Foreign Affairs Rudy Insanally is Guyana's agent for the purposes of the proceedings.

In his address, Jagdeo said his "government has a clear and pressing duty to seek to resolve our maritime differences with Suriname by every peaceful means."
" Fortunately, he explained, " as the Government of Barbados has recently demonstrated in its maritime dispute with Trinidad and Tobago, such means are at hand in the form of procedures available under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to which both Suriname and Guyana are parties. These procedures allow for disputes relating to maritime boundaries between adjacent states which are parties to the treaty to be submitted for binding resolution to an arbitral tribunal established under the treaty."

He said his government's decision to take the matter to the international tribunal was taken as a last resort, as Suriname continually frustrated any attempt to resolve the dispute. He accused the Suri-name government of taking "aggressive action to frustrate the exploration of exploitation of our hydrocarbon resources. For one developing country to do so to another is hard to understand; but it is worse than that because it is also a self-inflicted wound - Suri-name's development pros-pects are blighted also. It is the poorest in both countries who are most damaged by these policies and actions."

He said fellow Caricom member Suriname, in pursuit of its claim, had sought to link the maritime boundary dispute with its contention in relation to the New River Triangle. "In doing so, it has been prepared to sacrifice the economic development of each country on the altar of a claim we consider misconceived. The people of Guyana cannot accept this sacrifice."

The President said apart from Guyana's long-standing rejection of the claim, "it has no relevance to the mutual benefits that can accrue today to both countries from offshore mineral development - save for frustrating them."

He recounted the efforts to resolve the dispute and recalled efforts such as the 1989 agreement between then presidents Desmond Hoyte and Ramsewak Shankar "that pending settlement of the border question the representatives of the agencies responsible within the two countries, should agree on modalities which would ensure that the opportunities available within the said area can be jointly utilised by the two countries."

Following the ejection of the CGX oil exploration rig in the early part of June, 2000, a special ministerial meeting was convened by both countries at which it was agreed that "a Joint Technical Committee should meet independently, and further agreed to Joint Meetings of their respective National Border Commissions." In the succeeding months, a series of bilateral meetings took place. A meeting of the Joint Technical Committee was held in Georgetown in June 2000 and was followed by a special ministerial meeting in Paramaribo later that month. A joint meeting of the border commission was also convened in Paramaribo in January, 2002.

The President pointed out that he himself had visited Suriname in January 2002 and the joint declaration issued had agreed "to request the Border Commissions to look at best practices and modalities that could assist the governments in the taking of a decision regarding an eventual joint exploration".

This was followed by a meeting of the Joint National Border Sub-Commission meeting on May 31, 2002 followed by further meetings in July and October, 2002. Of these, the President said "Suriname frustrated all efforts at agreement".

The President in the widely televised address noted that Caricom had also made significant efforts to inspire an agreement. These date back to July 2000 in St Vincent and the Grenadines when the good offices of the Prime Minister of Jamaica were offered. To this end a meeting was held in Jamaica but failed to produce results. "Suriname consistently rejected constructive proposals for dispute resolution by the Prime Minister of Jamaica (PJ Patterson), and further efforts on his part failed to change this intransigent posture", the President argued.

Despite Caricom's genuine efforts to resolve the dispute and "the flurry of diplomatic activity and bilateral meetings" there was no result, Jagdeo recalled.

The President said too that Suriname "insisted on maritime delimitation based on a line running 10 degrees east of true north, though it offered no justification whatsoever for its position. It rejected all suggestions to delimit the maritime zone based on the principles of international law contained in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea."

He said that Suriname rejected all suggestions that the area be jointly exploited and in short made it clear "that it would not compromise, and that it was willing to use force to prevent Guyana from exploring and exploiting the natural resources in its exclusive economic zone and continental shelf."

He added that the Guyana Government had had arbitration procedures under advisement and Foreign Minister Insanally had noted in December, 2002 that while every possible diplomatic effort was being pursued "bringing the matter to an international tribunal may be a last resort".

The president added: "Now, having exhausted all other peaceful means of settling this dispute with Suriname, and conscious of the urgency of doing so in the interest of the people of the two countries, Guyana has today invoked these procedures". There had been mounting disenchantment locally that Suriname was dragging its feet on the maritime dispute and that the Guyana Government was not taking effective measures to produce a result.

The president also assured that Guyana will carefully examine the relevance for Guyana of the decision by Barbados to forward its claim against Trinidad to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Barbados is arguing that a maritime delimitation agreement signed between Trinidad and Venezuela infringes on its and Guyana's waters. Jagdeo pointed to the cooperation treaty in their overlapping maritime zones which was announced on Tuesday by Guy-ana and Barbados as a practical demonstration of dispute resolution that Caricom states can takeThe Guyana decision means that four Caricom members are now before the UN Law ofthe Sea Convention.

Jagdeo said the arbitral process initiated was "not an adversarial process, but one designed to establish a sound basis for economic development in the maritime regions â€∫ We hope the Government of Suriname will cooperate with us in achieving this".
Yesterday's announcement was preceded by a flurry of frantic briefings of the Cabinet, and the Parliamentary Foreign Relations Sub-committee. The government was unable to brief Leader of the Opposition Robert Corbin, whom a spokesman said they were unable to contact by phone either on Monday or Tuesday. However, Stabroek News understands that Jagdeo wrote to Corbin informing him of the various attempts to reach him and that the government has invoked the UN Law of the Sea Convention for a binding settlement of the maritime dispute with Suriname.

Stabroek News understands that the government intends to work swiftly to get a hearing on the application for the provisional relief sought.

The government has also rejected claims that its move was intended to distract the Guyanese people from the more urgent security concerns at home, involving Home Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj. At a PNCR press conference earlier in the day, Corbin accused the government of playing politics with the border issue since the decision to take the decision to the UN Tribunal was taken months ago.

Stabroek News understands that though the decision was taken months ago, it was only on Monday that the government decided to move ahead on it, after months of preparation for which it received some assistance from the Common-wealth Secretariat.

In his address, Jagdeo adverted to the tradition in Guyana of political parties - despite their differences on other matters - being united on issues affecting Guyana's territorial integrity. He urged the parties "to let us go forward in unity strong in our resolve to stand together in defence of our territorial integrity under law - under the law of Guyana, under the law of Nations."

Corbin said his party's position on national border security is well known. "We have stated our position both publicly and at the appropriate forum." Meanwhile, the Canada-based CGX is expected to make a statement on this development shortly. CGX believes that huge oil reserves are in the area it was unable to drill in after the gunboat eviction. It was able to drill at another target near the disputed zone but this did not yield any oil.

Timeline of CGX dispute
1998, June 24: President Janet Jagan signs agreement with Canada-based company CGX Resources Inc for off-shore oil exploration in Guyana's Exclusive Economic Zone.
2000, May 30: Suriname objects to CGX oil exploration.
2000, June 3: Suriname forces rig from Guyana drill site.
2000, June 6: Talks in Trinidad. Guyana 'more or less there', says Foreign Minister Clement Rohee.
2000, June 13: More bilateral talks held at Herdmanston House.
2000, July 3: President Bharrat Jagdeo lobbies Caricom Heads on a proposal for joint exploitation of the area pending settlement of the dispute.
2000, July 6: Caricom Heads affirm "the vital importance of settling this dispute by peaceful means in accordance with the spirit of the Treaty of Chaguaramas and the need to ensure that the benefits of existing resources in the area redound to the benefit of their respective peoples."
2000, July 14: Talks resume in Jamaica under the chairmanship of Jamaica's Prime Minister, P.J. Patterson.
2000, July 17: Talks fold over failure to settle on a formula for the interim sharing of resources in the disputed area.
2000, July 21: Tow ship removes CGX rig from its location at the Horseshoe West target
2001, January 23: President Jagdeo proposes joint exploitation in talks with new Suriname Prime Minister Ronald Venetiaan.
2002, January 29: Presidents of Guyana and Suriname sign a declaration to support cooperation in the exploitation of their marine resources. Agree to set up a sub-committee of the National Border Commissions to look at the issue.
2002, October 25-26: Border Commissions meet in Paramaribo.
2003, March: Diplomatic flap when Suriname government writes the diplomatic missions and international organisations resident in Paramaribo advising them that the official map of Suriname now incorporates the New River Triangle.
2003, March 10: Border Commissions meet in Georgetown.
2003, June: Commissions meet in Georgetown. Talks on hold.

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