Guyana negotiated in good faith

-- President Jagdeo

July 19, 2000 - Here is the text of President Jagdeo's statement on the negotiations between Guyana and Suriname which ended in failure on July 17, 2000.

THE recent Guyana-Suriname negotiations in Jamaica failed to reach an agreement on the current differences between our two countries. This was in spite of the best efforts of the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Mr Percival Patterson. It will be recalled that the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) had mandated Prime Minister Patterson to act as Facilitator in respect of the issues which they had clearly identified in their statement on Guyana and Suriname.

The two countries had formally acknowledged these issues as constituting the fundamental elements of the differences between them. The CARICOM Statement on Guyana and Suriname established the framework for the Montego Bay meeting. We met to seek a resolution on the immediate outstanding issues, and to determine a modality for sharing the benefits of exploratory drilling activities to be undertaken in the disputed area.

The CARICOM Summit had also decided that the Chairman of Conference (Prime Minister Sir James Mitchell of St Vincent and the Grenadines) would monitor future meetings of the Joint National Border Commissions. This was in clear recognition that settlement of the longstanding territorial dispute would have to be dealt with separately from the current differences, but in an expeditious manner. Guyana approached the Montego Bay meeting with a firm resolve to work towards an agreement.

There were, however, disturbing signals emanating from Suriname even before the Montego Bay talks commenced. These, in some areas, misrepresented the letter and spirit of the CARICOM Statement and attempted to cast doubt on the role of Prime Minister Patterson. These occurrences merely served to strengthen our commitment to the process. I was always sure that the Prime Minister of Jamaica would carry out, with integrity, the mandate of the CARICOM Heads of Government.

I wish to state here that we are highly indebted to the Prime Minister not only for his valuable time but for his wide knowledge and understanding. The failure of our negotiations with Suriname occurred, as I said earlier, despite his best efforts and, I might add, ours as well. On the first day of the Montego Bay meeting (Friday, July 14), I expressed Guyana's deepest appreciation to Prime Minister Patterson and the people of Jamaica for hosting the negotiations.

I further emphasised that Guyana had come to negotiate in good faith and that we were interested in an agreement that would redound not only to the benefit of the peoples of both countries, but to the entire Caribbean region. (Suriname) President (Jules) Wijdenbosch and myself agreed to an agenda for the meeting in keeping with the framework outlined by the Guyana/Suriname statement issued in Canouan (St Vincent and the Grenadines) by the CARICOM Heads of Government and which would be used as a guide for the discussions of the ministerial team under the Chairmanship of the Minister of Foreign Trade of Jamaica, Mr Anthony Hylton. I made it clear, however, that although the main points of this agenda focused on specific issues, they constituted an integrated package. Accordingly, I made known Guyana's position that while I 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.

During the intensive negotiations, there were signs of progress with respect to the procedure for setting in train an appropriate mechanism for settling the border issue. This was one of the three issues that constituted our agenda for the negotiations. The remaining issues were agreement on the establishment of a regime for the joint utilisation of the maritime area in dispute and in that context, the immediate return of the CGX oil rig to its original location.

Unfortunately, the return of the oil rig 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 return of the rig had to be premised on the acceptance of this unilateral assertion by Suriname.

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 in dispute, was now to be regarded as solely within the control of Suriname.

In denying that there was an area in dispute, the current Suriname negotiators were patently disregarding the facts of history and indeed its own previous acknowledgement of these facts. Moreover, the statement by the Heads of Government 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 addressing the resolution of such a 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 the modalities for joint utilisation and exploitation in the disputed area. We were not prepared to compromise on the above! During the course of the negotiations, Prime Minister Patterson prepared a draft Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU), which elaborated on the agenda issues. However, the draft MOU was silent on the more important issue - the return of the CGX oil rig as that matter was not yet resolved. It will be recalled that at a press briefing on Saturday, the second day of formal talks, the Prime Minister of Jamaica had announced that attempts would be continuing at the ministerial level to refine and conclude this MOU.

Unfortunately his optimism, and one which the Guyana delegation shared, that the MOU would eventually be signed having reached an agreement on all three issues, has not been realised. Suriname to the very end refused to entertain any discussions on the issue of the return of the CGX oil rig - an issue that, as I indicated earlier, was one of the essential elements of the package that would constitute an MOU between the two parties.

I am confident you would appreciate that in the circumstances Guyana could not agree to sign the MOU in which its primary concerns were not dealt with due to the refusal of the other party to entertain them. This latest position by Suriname is a sad reminder of its unwillingness to seriously and genuinely address the issue of joint utilisation of resources in the disputed area. It will be recalled that in 1989 former Presidents Hoyte and Shankar recognised that the area was cause for potential conflict and that pending settlement of the border, the two countries should develop modalities for joint utilisation.

Despite a signed Memorandum Of Understanding in 1991 by plenipotentiaries Grant and 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. It was therefore with considerable regret that 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. My government will continue, as we have done as a country for over a decade, to secure an agreement for joint utilisation of resources in the disputed area pending an outcome on the border issue. We will, under the chairmanship of CARICOM, continue to pursue bilateral discussions on the border issue. I will initiate a process of national consultation on involving a third party in the border matter should the bilateral discussions not yield early results. In the meantime, I have asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Education and the Minister of Information to intensify the dissemination of information on the historical and current facts on the border issue to our people, more especially our school population.

I want to assure our people that while we pursue peaceful negotiations, we are firmly committed to the protection and defence of our territorial integrity. Our delegation was made up of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Clement Rohee, Ambassadors Rudolph Collins and Elisabeth Harper, Legal Adviser, Dr Barton Scotland, Adviser and former Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Rashleigh Jackson, Commissioner of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, Mr Brian Sucre and the Commissioner of Lands and Surveys, Mr A.K. Datadin. I wish to recognise their hard work and efforts at the Jamaica negotiations.

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