History of the Republic of Guyana

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The Guyana - Suriname Boundary:

A Historical Review


From time to time, the Government of Suriname has made claims to New River triangle, an area of about 6000 square miles (about 15,600 square kilometers) of Guyana's territory located on the south-eastern corner of the country. Suriname has also claimed the entire Corentyne River as its territory, and this itself has caused some controversy. Recently, Suriname has also laid claim to a section of Guyana's territorial sea.

2. Suriname contends that the boundary in the continental shelf and the sea lies along a line originating at a point at No. 61 Village on the left bank of the Corentyne River and bearing 10 degrees east of true north.

3. Guyana has been accepting that the boundary should originate at that point, but has been contending that it should lie along what is referred to as the "median line". The issue of the median line is appropriate to the division of a river or a strait but has also been applied to the demarcation of lateral sea boundaries.

4. On June 2, 2000, Suriname gunboats forced an oil rig which had been hired by the Canadian based CGX company and which was operating in Guyana's territorial waters to move from the area. (Suriname claimed ownership of the said area and declared that it was asserting its rights). It was a hostile act which was in contravention of international norms and law. In addition, it was an act calculated to cause Guyana the maximum amount of economic damage. The company after all had been granted a licence as far back as 1998, and had explored in the contested area without any protest from Suriname. Furthermore, according to CGX, only in 1999 while it was prospecting in the same locale, it had sought and been granted permission by Suriname to turn its ship five miles into that country's recognized maritime zone for a period lasting over six weeks.

5. Oil exploration licences have been issued before by Guyana for what is now being called the area of overlap (the area near to Suriname's border extending into the Atlantic Ocean). In fact there was drilling there in 1974-75, which again produced no protest from Suriname.

6. Guyana, formerly the colony of British Guiana, became an independent nation on May 26, 1966. With regards to the geographical limits of the state of Guyana, Article I of Guyana's Constitution states specifically:

The Territory of Guyana shall comprise all the areas that, immediately before 26th May, 1966, were comprised in the former Colony of British Guiana together with such other areas as may be declared by Act of Parliament to form part of the territory of Guyana.

7. The colony of British Guiana had been formed in 1831 as a result of the union of the separate colonies of Essequibo-Demerara and Berbice, and the eastern boundary of the united colony remained the same as the eastern boundary of the former colony of Berbice. Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice were designated counties of the new united colony.

8. Guyana is separated from Suriname by the Corentyne River, a river that has for over a 150 years been accepted as forming the western boundary of Suriname. Previously known as Dutch Guiana, Suriname was a colony of the Netherlands. In the 1960s it became an integral part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Government of the Kingdom which was responsible for its external affairs. Suriname became an independent nation in 1975.

9. The Kutari-Curuni River* which flows into the Corentyne River in the upper reaches of that river has traditionally been recognised as forming the southernmost line of the boundary between Suriname and Guyana. The area immediately to the west of the Kutari-Curuni River was also recognised as being within the boundaries of the colony British Guiana. Before May 26, 1966, the Government of the United Kingdom exercised uninterrupted sovereignty over this area, a fact which has been consistently acknowledged by the Government of the Netherlands. From May 26, 1966 the state of Guyana has continued to exercise this uninterrupted sovereignty.

10. The New River, which also flows into the Corentyne River, is located west of the Kutari-Curuni River. From around the 1960s, the Dutch authorities began to suggest that this river was the upper part of the Corentyne River and should form the boundary between Suriname and Guyana. It is on the basis of this argument that Suriname, since the mid-1960s, began to claim the area of Guyana that lies between the Kutari-Curuni and the New Rivers. This contention has been pursued intermittently in the past and is, in the view of the government of Guyana, entirely without foundation in international law and morality. Guyana=s position on this matter is based on the history of Guyana and Suriname and in actions that have previously been taken to settle the boundary between them.


11. Berbice was settled in 1627 by the Dutchman Abraham Van Peere. In 1650 Suriname was settled by Lord Willoughby and Lawrence Hyde under a grant from the English King, Charles II. In the beginning, therefore, Suriname was a British and Berbice a Dutch possession. Due to European imperial rivalries in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the colonies frequently changed hands and these changes have played their part in the story of the boundary between Guyana and Suriname.

12. In 1672, under an arrangement between the Commander of Essequibo and the Secretary of the Government of Berbice, it was agreed that the Abary River would be the western boundary of the Colony of Berbice. The eastern boundary of Berbice, however, was still not settled.

13. Under the previous grant, the western boundary of Suriname was fixed at about 80 miles east of the eastern bank of the Corentyne River. In fact, therefore, Suriname did not extend across the Corentyne. However, the proprietors of Suriname proceeded to claim a boundary up to Devil=s Creek on the western coast of the Corentyne.

14. In 1674, Suriname was conquered by the Dutch. Immediately after, the neighbouring proprietors, Van Peere of Berbice and Van Somelsdyk of Suriname, agreed that their plantations should be separated by Devil's Creek, a creek west of the Corentyne River. However, this private agreement could not be regarded as affecting in any legal way the boundary between the two colonies, and in 1794 the Governor of Berbice, A.I. van Imbyse van Battenburg, challenged the legality of the act of the two proprietors in presuming to demarcate territorial boundaries. In a letter dated March 23, 1794 to the Directors of Berbice, Van Battenburg made the point that, under the terms of the grant of Charles ll to Lord Willoughby, the western limit of Suriname could not be regarded as extending further than one English mile west of the River Coppename, a river which in fact lay several miles to the east of the Corentyne River. Van Battenburg referred to the act of the proprietors as "an illegal act from which it is not to be inferred that the true boundary limit between Berbice and Suriname could be at that place (i.e., at Devil's Creek)".
As such, van Battenburg asserted that the land between the Coppename and the Corentyne Rivers belonged to neither colones. The proprietors of the estates in Berbice did not themselves accept this property transaction as validly defining the boundary between the two colonies and repeatedly made demands on the Governor of Berbice to make grants of land in the area between Devil' s Creek and the Corentyne River. Actually, van Battenberg declared that the Corentyne coast had proved to be "a perfect gold mine for the cultivation of cotton" and numerous applications were being made to the Berbice authorities for grants of land on the coast between Devil's Creek and the Corentyne River.

15. Shortly after this protest to Amsterdam, van Battenburg updated an extraordinary meeting of the members of the Court of Policy of Berbice on the correspondence between himself and the Governor of Suriname over the boundary between the two colonies and of his protests to the imperial government in Amsterdam over what he regarded as illegal claims of the Suriname authorities to land west of the Corentyne River. He declared:

. . . after mature deliberation it was decided to protest . . . against the performance and execution of that which the Governor of Surinam gave notice of in his letter, and requesting the Governor of this Colony in the name of the Court and to solicit His Excellency to have regard to the good relationship between the Governments of the two colonies and to avoid all unpleasantness in the working and execution of the contents of the said letter. . .

16. By 1799 colonial conquests caused both Berbice and Suriname to become British colonies. Berbice was taken in 1796 and Suriname in 1799. For administrative purposes, however, the Dutch Governors of the two colonies were not removed. Van Battenburg remained Governor of Berbice while Frederici retained his post as Governor of Suriname. After attempts were being made by the authorities in Suriname to grant lands on the Corentyne coast east of Devil's Creek, the Governors of both colonies decided to hold discussions with an aim of fixing the boundary.

17. In 1799 the two Governors met at Paramaribo and, while acknowledging that territorial boundaries could only be fixed by the metropolitan sovereign authorities, concluded an agreement at the colonial level which provided that Berbice should have control over the land between the west bank of the Corentyne River and Devil's Creek. The agreement was formally published in a proclamation of the Governor and the Court of Policy in New Amsterdam on January 20, 1800. It is on this Agreement of 1799 that the Dutch have based their claim that the boundary between Guyana and Suriname lies on the western bank of the Corentyne River.

18. The terms of the Agreement provided that:

the West Coast of the River Corentine as far as the Devil's Creek which hitherto has been held to make part of and belong to the colony of Surinam, and also the West bank of the said River shall be placed under, and considered as belonging to, the Government of Berbice.

The Agreement was expressed to be primarily concerned with making ''some arrangements by which all the Ends wished for might be obtained without precluding the final Regulations which, on determining the future fate of the Colonies, their Sovereign or Sovereigns in time being, might judge proper to establish with respect to the Boundary". In other words, this arrangement was not an attempt to settle boundaries, which the governors acknowledged to be beyond their competence, but rather an arrangement to ensure that there was no doubt that the area between Devil's Creek and the Corentyne River belonged to the colony of Berbice.

19. The Agreement did not acknowledge Suriname's sovereignty over the Corentyne River itself. A provision of the Agreement did guarantee Surinamese certain rights of movement in the river for the purpose of trading with the Amerindians but it was more consistent with the exercise of sovereignty over the river by Berbice rather than by Suriname.

20. Both colonies were under the common jurisdiction of Great Britain when this Agreement was made. In 1802, the Treaty of Amiens handed back both Suriname and Berbice to the Dutch. But in September 1803, Berbice was re-taken by the British, while Suriname continued to be Dutch until it May 1804 when it was recaptured by the British. The Articles of Capitulation, drawn up between Britain and the Netherlands in September 1803 in relation to Berbice, recognised the 1799 Agreement but did not demarcate the boundary in a formal way, nor did it foreclose any argument to the river itself. Article II of the Articles of Capitulation provided that:

the Grants of Lands on the West Coast and West Bank of the River Corentine, made by Governor Frederici, of Surinam which territory was formerly held to make part of and belonging to that Colony, but since December, 1799, has been placed and considered as belonging to the Government of Berbice, shall . . . be respected as conclusive. . .

21. Between September 1803 and May 1804, the 1799 Agreement had constituted the division line between the two territories occupied by different powers and during that period had acquired international status.

22. Therefore, when the Dutch ceded Berbice to the British in 1814, they were doing so conscious that it was the same entity which the British had occupied since 1803.

23. Likewise when the British restored Suriname to the Dutch, they did so with the understanding, as had been recognised by the Dutch, that the western boundary of the Colony was the Corentyne.

24. However, Suriname has argued that the 1799 Agreement was a recognition by Berbice that the territory of Suriname extended up to Devil's Creek and so included the whole of the Corentyne River. The argument continues that only the land west of the river was being ceded to Berbice, with the result that the river itself remained Dutch territory in its entire width, and that accordingly, the effect of the Agreement was to constitute the left bank of the Corentyne as the boundary.

25. But it could be construed that when the Agreement proceeded to state that it was placing the west bank of the Corentyne under the Government of Berbice, there was no room for any necessary implication that the river and its entirety would belong to Suriname.

26. It could be argued further that in placing the west bank under the jurisdiction of Berbice, the intention of the Agreement was presumably to give to Berbice those collateral interests in the river which ordinarily went with ownership of the river bank, and a reasonable implication, therefore, was that the actual boundary should lie somewhere along the mid-stream of the river.

27. In the years following 1803 nothing was done to settle the boundary by treaty, but the Corentyne River was accepted in practice as separating the two colonies. At the end of the Napoleonic Wars the Convention of London (1814) confirmed at the Peace of Paris (1815) gave back Suriname to the Dutch while retaining for the British, Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice, but again the boundary between Berbice and Suriname was not defined. When the three British colonies were united in 1831 and became British Guiana, the eastern boundary remained as undefined as it had been when Berbice was a separate colony.

28. Up to this time the Corentyne River in its upper reaches was largely uncharted. However, in 1841 the British Government commissioned Sir Robert H. Schomburgk to survey the boundaries of the new colony of British Guiana. Schomburgk proposed exploring the upper extent of the Corentyne River. The Governor of British Guiana suggested to the Governor of Suriname that he should send a commissioner to cooperate in the exploration of the river which was regarded as the boundary between the two colonies. However, the Government of Suriname declined to participate in the survey on the grounds that the Governor "having no instructions to that effect, was unable to appoint a commissioner and that as he was not aware of any difference of opinion as to the boundary and did not anticipate any, he saw no occasion for sending a representative."


29. Schomburgk accordingly explored the Corentyne River alone and in its upper reaches found two rivers, the Kutari and the Curuni, which united and flowed into the Corentyne. Schomburgk named the united river the Corentyne and sailed down it to the coast. As a result of this journey the Corentyne with the Kutari as its source was mapped as forming the boundary between British Guiana and Suriname. Subsequently maps drawn by both Dutch and English cartographers embodied Schomburgk' s findings. Thus, for example, in 1892 in Dornseiffen's Atlas, published at Amsterdam, this was the delineation followed. This delineation remained unchallenged until after the turn of the twentieth century.

30. Meanwhile, in 1871 Barrington Brown, a geologist, while carrying out a geological survey, discovered a river in Guyana (then British Guiana) to the West of the Kutari which he named the New River. It was his opinion that the New River was larger than the Kutari, and that the latter, for that reason, ought to be regarded as being only a branch. Nevertheless, despite this assertion Barrington Brown himself mapped the New River as a tributary of the Corentyne. Both the British and the Dutch continued to publish maps on this basis until 1899 when W.L. Loth, a land surveyor in Suriname, drew a map which, for the first time, showed the New River as the continuation of the Corentyne.

31. Significantly, Loth, eleven years before in 1888, had produced a map of the Guianas, "based on the best available information and my own measurements" and issued with the approval of the Governor of Suriname, which showed both the New River and the Kutari but with the Kutari as the Boundary river. (See maps at Appendix I & Appendix II).

32. In 1899, the Arbitration Tribunal in Paris demarcated the boundary between the colony of British Guiana and Venezuela and referred to British Guiana's boundary with Suriname as continuing "to the source of the Corentyne called the Kutari river". The Dutch authorities used this occasion to raise a protest in which they claimed that, as a result of Barrington Brown's remarks in 1871, the New River and not the Kutari ought to be regarded as the upper continuation of the Corentyne and for this reason the boundary. To this protest, Lord Salisbury, the British Secretary of State on behalf of the United Kingdom, in 1900 replied that it was now too late to reopen this particular issue as the Kutari had long been accepted on both sides as the boundary.

33. In 1910 Lieutenant C.C. Kayser of the Dutch Navy sailed up the Corentyne River, surveyed its upper areas and published an account of his findings and a map based on these findings. He discovered another large branch of the Corentyne River which entered that river on its eastern side about 20 miles below the New River, and this he called the Lucie River. Interestingly, the Dutch have so far asserted that the Lucie is the real Corentyne and all the rest a tributary, no doubt conscious of the implications that such a theory would hold were the boundary with Suriname to run along its course.

34. In 1913, W.C. Farabee, Professor of Anthropology in the University of Philadelphia, explored the Kutari and the New Rivers. He was accompanied by John Ogilvie who in a sworn declaration attested, contrary to Barrington Brown' s opinion, that the Kutari was bigger than the New River. The matter excited great attention in Holland in the latter part of the 1920s. Dr. Yzerman, one of the leading Dutch authorities on the subject, exhaustively discussed the question in a lecture to the Dutch Royal Geographical Society. The Netherlands Minister for the Colonies in statements to the Dutch Parliament reported that Dr. Yzerman had shown that the basin of Curuni was considerably more extensive than that of the New River, and did not justify the Dutch claim that the New River and not the Curuni was the principal source of the Corentyne. This conclusion was supported by scientific measurements of the comparative flows of both rivers taken by the Wilhelmina expedition in 1926.

35. It is clear that the geographical assessment can never justify the Dutch, and later the Surinamese, claim and that the position remains as reflected in the written statements by the Netherlands Minister of the Colonies made in the Dutch Parliament. On April 28, 1925 the Minister declared:

From more than one side I have heard it remarked that in respect of this frontier such a degree of uncertainty exists that an early settlement of the question may be considered very necessary. This view does not appear to me to be quite correct. In practice, the Curuni has always been the boundary, and thus, from this point of view no doubt exists at present with regard to the delimitation of our actual claims. Accordingly, if applications are made for the development of the soil, or for other purposes, it is obvious that if they relate to areas situated on the opposite side of the river, our administration is not competent to deal with them. So far, therefore, no uncertainty exists . . . I cannot refrain from observing that after recent discussions of the point the acceptability of these claims has not increased to my mind. I do not wish by this to imply that I formerly held that such claims did exist; but what Dr. Yzerman set forth before the Royal (Dutch) Geographical Society regarding the importance of the Curuni and of the New River as affluents of the Corantine showing that the basin of the Curuni is considerably more extensive than that of the New River, I doubt somewhat whether the pronouncement that the New River, and not the Curuni really forms the upper reaches of the Corentyne River, which in this matter is the main point, may be accepted with certainty. At any rate in the circumstances I am at present the less able to see a reason why the Government should abandon the standpoint adopted hitherto. . .

36. In another statement to the Parliament on June 23, 1925, the Dutch Minister pointed out:

. . . as a rule it is the river with the largest basin that is the main affluent; and, as Dr. Yzerman has shown, in this instance this would, it is said, not be the New River but the Curuni. I may, therefore say in this respect there are by no means any positive data for the opposite standpoint. And further that in the given circumstances, it is very doubtful whether a boundary dispute may be spoken of. . .

37. It is significant that in spite of Suriname's claim to the New River Triangle, she has continued to accept that the area has always been under the sovereignty of Britain, a point explicitly made by the Netherlands Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Dutch Parliament in his statement on June, 23, 1925. He stated explicitly that "the territory on the other side of these rivers (i.e., Curuni-Kutari) is one over which, according to the facts recognised up to the present, the authority of the Netherlands does not exist". He went on to show that the British exercised sovereignty over the area and for years issued concessions or licences there for obtaining balata and that obviously such action was "based on the standpoint that the British administration possesses rights there."


38. At the beginning of the century the British position had been explicitly stated in the letter sent by the Secretary of State, Lord Salisbury, in answer to the Dutch protest against the reference by the Arbitration Tribunal to the Suriname-British Guiana boundary. In his reply the Secretary of State said:

. . . a definite and always easy ascertainable boundary, which has been accepted in good faith by both parties, published to the world for 57 years, and in no way challenged during that time, should not be upset by geographical discoveries made long subsequent to the original adoption of the boundary and by theories so uncertain as those which are held to determine the true source of a river.

Her Majesty's Government, while desirous of showing every consideration for the views put forward by the Netherlands Government, feel unable, for the reasons explained, to enter into an argument with regard to the true source of the River Corentin as affecting he boundary which has been long established to the satisfaction of both Colonies.

39. The Dutch accepted this position and it was demonstrated by the statement made in February 1913 by the Netherlands Minister for Foreign Affairs to the Dutch Parliament in which he said:

. . . the observation that, from the most recent researches, the New River has been proved to be the real Corentyne, and consequently forms the boundary between Surinam and British Guiana, is based on a misconception. On the contrary, it is a fact established both by history and by international law, and agreed to by the British Government, that the boundary, is formed by the Corentyne and its upper course, the Cutari-Curuni, and to this water course the ordinary rules of international law obtaining in respect of joint boundary rivers are wholly applicable.

40. This recognition of the Kutari as the boundary between Suriname and British Guiana was further reinforced by a statement made on March 27, 1924, by the Netherlands Minister of Colonies in the Dutch Parliament. In answer to two Deputies who desired information respecting the boundary between Suriname and British Guiana, the Minister referred to the rejection in 1900 by the British Government of the Dutch claim to a boundary on the New River and said:

Subsequent to the exploration in question, which was carried out in 1843, it has been the Cutari-Curuni specifically which in its upper reaches, i.e. until its confluence with the New River has been regarded as the boundary river. . .

He added that the succeeding (Netherlands) Governments had no reason for reverting to this question.

41. On June 23, 1925, the same Minister said:

. . . the territory on the other side of these rivers (i.e., Curuni-Kutari) is one over which, according to the facts recognised up to the present, the authority of the Netherlands does not exist. . . For years the British administration has issued concessions or licences there for obtaining balata. The action taken on the British side has therefore long been based on the standpoint that the British administration possesses rights there. . .

(For) decades the Corantine with its affluent the Curuni continued upstream by the Cutari river, has remained the boundary for the two parties concerned. This river line has hitherto always been accepted, de facto, as the boundary between British and Dutch Guyana. On this point therefore no uncertainty exists. . .

42. The factual situation described by the Dutch Minister at the Hague it 1925 continues to persist. He said then:

In the given circumstances it is very doubtful whether a boundary dispute may be spoken of . . . the desire may be cherished that at a future date it may transpire that the New River will be regarded on both sides as the right boundary, but to base political claims to it on the existing data seems to me to be precluded for the present.

43. Again, on February 24, 1927, the same Minister of Colonies said:

. . . since about a century England has as a matter of fact had the disposal of the territory between the New River and the Curuni-Cutari... As we now have boundaries which have become historical and which do not trouble us at all (i.e. the boundary formed by the western bank of the Corantin and Curuni-Cutari rivers) our claims are not particularly strong. It would therefore appear to me that should this matter be discussed with England the Netherlands standpoint would be weak. . .


44. In 1929 news of the possibility of oil existing in Suriname and British Guiana in the vicinity of the Corentyne River, led to proposals, set out in a letter dated August 7, 1929, from the Netherlands Minister to the British Foreign Office for the conclusion of a border treaty between the two countries. The Netherlands Minister said that there was a special reason for concluding such a treaty since the Brazilian Government then wished to demarcate its boundaries with British Guiana and Suriname and this could not be done unless the point at which the frontiers of the three countries met was determined. The reference here was to a Treaty signed in 1926 by Britain and Brazil for the demarcation of the frontier between Brazil and British Guiana.
Article 2 of that Treaty provided that:

The British Guiana/Brazil frontier shall lie along the watershed between the Amazon basin and the basins of the Essequibo and Corentyne Rivers as far as the point of junction or convergence of the frontier of the two countries with Dutch Guiana. . .

45. The Treaty provided for the setting up of a Commission to demarcate the frontier. The Netherlands Government was notified of the proposed work of the Commission and invited to participate. In fact the method of determining the point at which the boundaries of the three countries met was suggested by the Netherlands Government who in their Note to the British Government of February 27, 1933, proposed that the boundary between Suriname and British Guiana should follow:

. . . the path Trombetas-Cutari from its extremity on the Cutari leading over a rock, by Farabee called 'Farogle', till its point of contact with the Brazilian frontier This point of contact will be the tri-junction point. . .

46. To this Note the British Government replied by letter of June 27, 1933 that they were prepared "in certain circumstances" to adopt the proposals put forward by the Netherlands Government for the demarcation of this boundary in the neighbourhood of the Brazilian frontier. The certain circumstances were explained to be the following:

If, therefore, the source of the River Cutari should prove not to lie on the watershed separating the basin o f the River Amazon from the basins of the rivers Essequibo and Corantyne, or, alternatively if the determination of the source of this River should prove a matter of great practical difficulty, considerable time and expense might be saved were the Boundary Commissioners themselves left free to adopt the line of boundary as suggested by the Netherlands Government. . .

47. In response the Netherlands Legation in London "noted with great satisfaction that His Majesty's Government agree to the proposals put forward . . . regarding the demarcation of the Surinam-British Guiana Boundary". In the event, as will appear below, the tri-junction point was fixed at the point indicated in the Dutch Note of February 27, 1933.

48. On April 25, 1935 the Dutch themselves submitted to the British Foreign Office a draft of instructions which the Dutch Government suggested should be issued to "the Respective Commissions for the defining of the tri-junction of the boundaries of Surinam, British Guiana and Brazil". The principal provisions of the draft (which was accepted without amendment by the British) provided as follows:

(a) The Commissioners shall proceed to investigate the principal course of the Cutari River so far as the source of the Cutari River.

(b) The longest of the branches of the Cutari River shall be deemed to be its principal course.

49. In accordance with these instructions and with the deliberate concurrence of the representatives of all three countries, the tri-junction point was duly fixed in 1936 at the point suggested by the Dutch in their Note of February 27, 1933. The Dutch representative on the commission was Admiral Kayser. (See map at Appendix III showing the Tri-Junction point at source of River Kutari. This map was signed by Admiral Kayser, the Dutch Commissioner together with the Brazilian and British Commissioners).


50. In the meantime, the Netherlands proposal of 1929 for a boundary treaty had been taken up by the British and negotiations to this end were proceeding. On the question of sovereignty over the New River Triangle the position was clear. The statements that were made in the Dutch Parliament during the 1920s on behalf of the Netherlands Government had conceded that Britain had been exercising acts of sovereignty over the area. They had also acknowledged that "it would be difficult to speak of the existence of a dispute" over the Kutari as the line of the boundary in the upper reaches of the Corentyne. By 1930 it was indisputable that the New River Triangle should be formally recognised as forming part of British Guiana, recognition which was in fact later given by the Netherlands Government in connection with the fixing of the tri-junction point. Accordingly, on August 4, 1930, the Netherlands Government informed the British Foreign Office that they were willing to sign such a Treaty and would propose to include in it the following delimitation of the frontier:

The frontier between Surinam and British Guiana is formed by the left bank of the Corentyne and the Cutari up to its source, which rivers are Netherland territory.

51. In their reply to this on February 6, 1932, the British Government stated:

His Majesty' s Government are gratified to learn that the Netherlands Government are prepared to recognise the left banks of the Corentyne and Kutari Rivers as forming the boundary, provided that His Majesty's Government recognise the rivers themselves as belonging to the Netherlands Government.

The provision had at this time become important to the Dutch in view of reports of the discovery of oil.


52. In the Agreement which was made between the two Governors, Van Battenburg and Frederici, it was specifically provided not only that the territory west of the Corentyne River be regarded as British territory but also that the islands in the river should be regarded as belonging to Suriname. Nothing had been said about the sovereignty of the river as this was not the particular question occupying the minds of the Governors. They envisaged that a formal agreement would be made by the competent metropolitan authorities for the purpose of settling the boundaries between the two colonies. Nevertheless, in the 1930s the Dutch sought to claim on the basis of this Agreement that the boundary between Suriname and British Guiana lay along the western bank of the Corentyne River. The situation which the Dutch thereby sought to create was not only unusual in international law and practice but contrary to the understanding of both parties before the 1930s. Both sides had then agreed that the boundary lay along the mid-line of the river.

53. Indeed in February 1913 the British Secretary of State for the Colonies in a despatch to the Governor of British Guiana stated:

. . . .Generally speaking the Corentyne is the boundary of British Guiana on the Dutch side with the usual attributes of a river boundary namely that the line of mid-stream is to be taken as the boundary from the source downwards.

This reflected the British thinking on the matter.

54. Similar thinking on the Dutch side was reflected by the statement of the Netherlands Minister for Foreign Affairs who in the same month of the same year, February 1913, declared in the Dutch Parliament that the boundary was formed by the Corentyne and the Kutari-Curuni and added: ". . . to this water course the ordinary rules of international law obtaining in respect of joint boundary rivers are wholly applicable". In keeping with the thinking of both sides the maps published in British Guiana in 1913 and in 1924 showed the boundary between the two colonies along the thalweg (deepest channel) of the Corentyne and Kutari rivers and bore the following note:

The Eastern boundary of the Colony is the middle of the deepest channel (thalweg) of the river Courantyne and when an Island is passed the middle of the deepest channel (thalweg) between the island and the West Bank of the River.

55. This was the accepted position up to 1929. The position then was that the Dutch had clearly recognised the title of the British not only to the New River Triangle but also to a frontier on the mid-line of the Corentyne-Kutari. It was around this time that it was reported that oil had been discovered in the region around the mouth of the Corentyne River. It was then that the Dutch proposed that the boundary should be settled by Treaty and, in the context of that proposal, they asserted that the boundary should lie not along the Kutari but along the New River, and that its precise position should be not along the thalweg but along the left bank of the Corentyne.

56. In the resulting negotiations they abandoned this unsupportable claim to the New River as the southern-most line of the boundary, while the British expressed their willingness, on this basis and provided existing British rights of user of the river were safeguarded, to accept a boundary on the left bank of the river. This formed the consensus on which the final draft of the Boundary Treaty was prepared in the 1930s, a Treaty which was all but signed when the Second World War intervened. Although agreement had been reached, the actual signing was postponed and it has never taken place.


57. In 1927 the Dutch proposed the holding of discussions for signing a treaty on the boundary question regarding the territorial sea. The discussions began in 1931, but following the custom of the time the first draft of the treaty was forwarded by the United Kingdom to the Netherlands in 1935. The Dutch in their original draft of 1931 proposed a 28 degree line, but this line was changed to a 10 degree by the Mixed Commission in 1936. Subsequent drafts were submitted by the two sides up to 1939, when work on the final draft of the treaty was interrupted by the outbreak of the War in Europe.

58. Based on international norms, Guyana's maritime boundary follows a line of 33 degrees east of true north which confirms with the principle of equidistance established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea when there is no agreed maritime boundary. In contrast, Suriname adheres to the line 010 degrees east of true north, that is west of the Guyana line, proposed by the draft treaty which was prepared before the war.

59. Indeed, the principle of equidistance in the continental shelf did attract international attention well before the framing of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea. The convention on the continental shelf reached in Geneva in April, 1958 established in Article 6(2) that when the continental shelf is adjacent to the territories of two states, and in the absence of agreement, the boundary should be determined by the application of the principle of equidistance from the nearest points of the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea of each state is measured. (This principle is also enshrined in the Convention on the Law of the Sea which was open for signature from December 1982). Where there is no agreement or where there has been failure to reach agreement the equidistance principle becomes automatically applicable unless one side can prove there is historic title or other special circumstance. Note should be taken that in the case of the continental shelf there is no proviso for historic title, for the simple reason that the concept of continental shelf is relatively new as it developed after World War II.

60. After the end of the war negotiations had resumed in 1949 on the basis of another draft treaty, a second draft, which was identical with the first draft of 1939 save in one aspect. Accordingly, this second draft was revised to produce a third draft which was divided into three parts to define the agreed principle of equidistance.

61. In August, 1958, at the request of Suriname, as communicated to the British Government by the Embassy of the Netherlands in London by aide memoire dated August 6, 1958, the Netherlands proposed that the division of the territorial seas and continental shelf should be defined in accordance with this principle of equidistance. The British accepted this proposal.

62. Part Two, containing two articles VII and VIII, provided the definition of the dividing line between the territorial seas and contiguous zone as being formed by "the prolongation seawards of the line drawn on a bearing of 010 degrees referred to in article 1(2) to a distance of 6 miles from the seaward of the concrete marks referred to, (that is, those outside No. 61 Village) thence on a bearing of 033 degrees for a distance of 35 miles, thence on a bearing of 038 degrees for a distance of 28 miles, thence on a bearing of 028 degrees to the point of intersection with the edge of the continental shelves as defined by international law."

63. The British were prepared to concede the 010 degree line (to a distance of 6 miles) so far as the territorial sea was concerned as it was not considered to represent the median line.

64. This draft, the third, was forwarded to the Netherlands in October, 1961. In June, 1962, the Netherlands submitted a counter draft comprising a package which included the first official claims to the New River Triangle and located the boundary in the Corentyne in the thalweg rather than on the left bank as in the first draft. The Netherlands also proposed an alternative method of dividing the territorial waters and continental shelf by prolonging the 010 degree line seawards along the end of the thalweg, rather than the British line 033 degree which was slightly eastward. These proposals were rejected in totality.

65. Significantly, this counter position, including a new claim to Guyana's territory, coincided with the reopening by Venezuela of its claim to the Essequibo at the United Nations in February, 1962 and at a time of considerable domestic upheaval in British Guiana. On February 3, 1966, on the eve of Guyana's independence and a fortnight prior to the convening in Geneva of the critical meeting on the Guyana/Venezuela boundary, the Netherlands forwarded a substantial note rejecting the third draft treaty and, among other things, reverted to the 010 degree maritime line as the sea boundary.

66. Since the 010 degree line of the first draft was related to the direction of the left bank of the Corentyne, and not to any median rule, that line would be open to negotiation as it would lose whatever validity was accorded if the frontier were to be shifted to the thalweg and the median line seaward commenced from that point.

67. In 1965, the British Government after consultation with the British Guiana Government proposed a new draft restating the 1961 British draft and suggesting a sea boundary following the median line from the left bank along the line where the two markers intersect the low waterline and then drawn according to the equidistance principle. This proposal elicited no response from the Dutch.

68. After independence, the Republic of Guyana delivered a modified draft treaty in 1971 following the lines of the 1965 British draft. There was again no discussion on the latest British draft and it was considered rejected by Suriname. Suriname has made no proposal for a settlement of the issue since that date or especially since that country became independent in 1975.


69. As stated above, the Dutch made their first official claim to ownership of the New River Triangle while conceding to Britain that the thalweg formed the boundary between Suriname and British Guiana. This claim to Guyana's territory was, of course, unacceptable to the British but with the anticipated granting of independence to Guyana, the Dutch redoubled their efforts to have the boundary settled on their terms. A Conference arranged for 1962 was abortive and Mr. Johann Pengel, Minister/President of Suriname, expressed his deep disappointment.

70. Thereafter, every possible opportunity was taken to assert Suriname's claim to the New River Triangle. A Commission to advise the Government on the question was formed, and by decree Suriname unilaterally purported to change the name of the New River to that of the "Upper Corentyne". The execution of repairs to the wharf at Springlands on the Guyana side of the Corentyne was used as an opportunity for an attempt to claim Dutch rights in the area. In 1964, the Dutch decreed that all users of the river for certain purposes should not do so unless they held valid licences from the Nickerie (Suriname) authorities. As the date for Guyana's independence drew near, Pengel intensified his efforts and stated in April 1966 that "in view of the forthcoming independence of British Guiana the Suriname Government wishes the British to make it clear when sovereignty is transferred that the frontier is disputed." He added, "Britain remains responsible for the border".

71. Although the Prime Minister of Guyana, Mr. Forbes Burnham and Pengel met for informal discussions in January 1966, it proved impossible to have a formal conference before Guyana's Independence.

72. In April 1966, at his request, the Netherlands Foreign Minister, Dr. Luns, discussed the matter with Lord Walston, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and in the presence of Sir Lionel Luckhoo, the Guyana Representative to that meeting, that "Suriname had shown great restraint in not exercising acts of sovereignty in the New River Triangle". Dr. Einaar, Minister Plenipotentiary of Suriname in The Hague, who was also present at the meeting, endorsed these views of Dr. Luns. Lord Walston made the point that "on the New River Triangle Her Majesty's Government maintain very firmly their sovereignty over the territory of British Guiana as defined by its present frontier". One month later Guyana became independent having as its boundaries the boundaries of British Guiana and as its sovereignty that which Britain had exercised undisturbed for over a century.

73. In June 1966, a meeting of officials of Suriname and British Guiana was arranged in London to discuss the matter. There was a free and frank exchange of views, and the Dutch offered to host a follow-up meeting in The Hague. However, that meeting never materialised and the matter rested until the agitation on the border issue resurfaced again in Suriname in 1967.

74. Shortly after Guyana attained independence, one of the first visits of a foreign head of government to Guyana was that of the Suriname Minister-President Johann Pengel to Guyana in 1967.

75. In late 1967, the Suriname Government sent a land survey party into the New River Triangle. Early in December 1967, members of the Guyana Police Force asked the survey team to leave. The Suriname authorities, which had laid claim to the area, protested the action as a grave breach of their sovereignty. They asked the Netherlands Government through their Ambassador in London to request Sir Lionel Luckhoo, Guyana's High Commissioner, to provide a clarification at the earliest possible time. In reply, Luckhoo informed the Dutch Ambassador that no permission had been granted to the Government of Suriname to carry out any survey in the area. The presence of the survey team was therefore illegal and a violation of Guyana's territorial integrity. In the circumstances, Luckhoo explained, the Guyana police had acted with commendable restraint.

76. Following this incident, an understanding was arrived at between the Governments of Guyana and Suriname that the latter would refrain from encroaching on Guyana's territory.

77. The right of Guyana to the New River Triangle was stated firmly in 1968 by the Minister of State, Shridath Ramphal:

By every token of history, custom, usage, prescription and recognition, indeed by every relevant criterion of international law, Guyana' s title to the New River Triangle is unassailable. It cannot now be competent for the Netherlands to raise a claim to the area when over the years they have acknowledged the Kutari as the boundary in the Notes and letters of their diplomats, in the speeches of their Ministers in their own Parliament, in their proposals for the conclusion of a Boundary Treaty, in their concurrence in the fixing of the common international boundary between Guyana, Suriname and Brazil, and in the absence of any exercise of jurisdiction over the area.

78. Neither the Dutch nor the Surinamese showed any interest in holding talks on the border issue. Eventually, in September 14, 1968, Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, in a letter to Minister-President Johann Pengel of Suriname, expressed Guyana's desire to discuss fully, cooperation and settlement of all issues between the two countries. This letter receive no reply.

79. But while Guyana was looking forward to discussions on the border issue, Suriname commenced the clandestine occupation of the New River triangle in clear breach of the understanding arrived at in 1967. In mid-August 1969, the Guyana Defence Force patrol found an unauthorised camp and a partially completed airstrip on Guyana territory west of the Corentyne River in the area of the New River triangle. On August 19, 1969, in the course of investigating the camp, the GDF patrol encountered a number of uniformed Surinamese who opened fire on the Guyanese soldiers. However, the Surinamese resistance was repelled and they abandoned the camp and fled in the direction of the Suriname border. In spite of the hostile intention of the Surinamese, the action taken by the GDF was essentially a policing action, aimed at removing intruders from Guyana's territory.

80. The camp built by Suriname's armed forces on Guyana's territory was constructed as a military installation. It had underground bunkers especially constructed to protect against shell and mortar attacks and was equipped with towers and machine-gun emplacements. Maps left by the Surinamese revealed a plan to occupy the entire New River area with a series of military camps, with the discovered camp serving as a base and supply headquarters. Judging from the personal effects and accommodation facilities left at the camp, it was estimated that there were between 50 to 55 men occupying it. They left behind a Caterpillar bulldozer, a jeep, an electric power plant, a mechanical water pump, power driven hand saws, a large refrigerator and well-stocked kitchens.

81. On August 21, 1969, Prime Minister Burnham informed the Guyana National Assembly that strong protests were sent to the Governments of the Netherlands and Suriname. He announced that the GDF would remain in the New River triangle to prevent any further incursions. He concluded his statement by saying:

There can be no doubt that the New River Triangle is part of the territory of Guyana and has been in our possession from time immemorial. This Government is pledged to maintain traditional friendly relations with our neighbours, including Suriname, and at the same time, our country's territorial integrity.

82. Shortly after, the GDF established a permanent military outpost in the New River triangle. This outpost was named Camp Jaguar. Around the same period, Guyana opened a Consulate General in Paramaribo.

83. During 1970 meetings between Prime Minister Forbes Burnham and the new Prime Minister of Suriname Jules Sedney were held in Port-of-Spain, Georgetown and Paramaribo. Discussions related to follow-up action after the New Triangle area incident. Agreement also reached on the establishment of the Guyana-Suriname commission, which was made responsible for improving co-operation in economic, social and cultural areas.

84. During 1973 Guyana made official complaints to the Suriname government on the detention and harassment of Guyanese citizens while in Suriname.

85. Guyana and Suriname established diplomatic relations on Suriname's accession to independence in 1975.

86. In 1978 tensions rose in the two countries' capitals over Guyana's action to implement the provisions of the Guyana Maritime Act on fishing in its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone. One Suriname-owned trawler six other foreign trawlers based in Suriname were arrested in Guyana's waters and also impounded. Suriname responded by refusing to grant licences to Guyanese fishermen, loggers and floating-shops operating in Suriname. Guyana's Foreign Minister held discussions with his Suriname counterpart to resolve these problems in a mutually beneficial manner.

87. Suriname detained 10 balata bleeders who were surveying balata trees along the Corentyne River. While they were later released, their equipment was not returned.

88. Three Heads of Government meetings were held in 1979 between Prime Minister Forbes Burnham and Suriname's Prime Minister Henck Aaron in Barbados, Georgetown and Paramaribo. Agreements were reached in the fields of economic and technical cooperation, and it was decided that ministers of both countries would meet to deal with specific aspects of bilateral cooperation. A Fishery Agreement and an agreement on cultural and scientific co-operation were signed. The Heads of Government also examined proposals for the operation of a jointly owned car-ferry service in the Corentyne River. (The Agreements were ratified in 1986).

89. Guyana's Police Commissioner visited Suriname to discuss procedures in dealing with the illegal trade in goods, drugs and currency violations and the treatment of Guyanese nationals.

90. In 1989, the President of Suriname, Mr Ramsaywak Shankar paid a state visit to Guyana. The Presidents of the two countries agreed to establish the Guyana-Suriname Council aimed at improving cooperation in various sectors. They also discussed measures to activate a trade agreement signed between the two countries. In the same year, Guyana's President Desmond Hoyte paid an official visit to Suriname. As a result of discussions, the Presidents of both countries agreed on a trade mission from Suriname to visit Guyana.

91. On the maritime boundary between the two countries, both presidents agreed that pending settlement of the border question, the authorities responsible for petroleum development in both countries should agree that the area of the north eastern and north western seaward boundaries could be jointly utilised by the two countries. This agreement reached by both Presidents developed in the Memorandum of Understanding of 1991, in essence formally endorsed the intent of the third draft treaty of 1961. It was the culmination of over two decades of consummate diplomacy and the mutual respect generated between two neighbouring states. This agreement was confirmed in the Agreed Minutes prepared by the two Foreign Ministers, Rashleigh Jackson of Guyana and Edwin Sedoc of Suriname.

92. In February 1991, the Memorandum of Understanding was agreed upon by the two countries and signed by Dr. Cedric Grant, Ambassador and Special Adviser to the President of Guyana, and Dr. John Kolader, Ambassador of Suriname to Guyana.. It provided for the exploitation of petroleum resources in the "Area of Overlap" for the benefit of both countries pending a resolution of the border dispute. This agreement was never ratified by the Surinamese Parliament.

93. From time to time, the Suriname authorities have arrested Guyanese fishermen for using unlicensed boats in the Corentyne River. In most cases, diplomatic intervention by Guyana would lead the release of the fishermen and their boats.

94. During a state visit to Suriname in 1994 by President Cheddi Jagan, the two Governments agreed that the meetings of the National Border Commissions and the Guyana/Suriname Cooperation Council, which had earlier been established, would be resuscitated to facilitate timely consultations and to establish a basis for resolution of the dispute. In spite of several initiatives from Guyana, the meetings of the Commissions have not been held.

95. In 1995 Suriname was admitted as a full member of CARICOM. The country's application for membership was firmly supported by Guyana.

96. The Guyana-Suriname Ferry, jointly operated by both countries, began operation in 1998. The European Union facilitated funding for its operation.

97. On June 3, 2000, two Suriname gunboats forced the CGX oil rig and its crew to remove from an area of Guyana's exclusive economic zone on the Atlantic continental shelf near to the Suriname maritime border. The Suriname government claimed that the oil rig was in Surinamese territorial waters. The rig was in the process of commencing oil drilling operations.

98. All attempts by the Government of Guyana at meetings in Port of Spain, Georgetown and Paramaribo during June 2000 and also at the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting in St. Lucia in early July 2000 to settle this new dispute with the Government of Suriname have failed so far.

99. Guyana at these discussion adopted a firm but flexible approach based in friendship, cooperation and mutual respect. In this regard, the following proposals have been made:

(i) The two sides should return to the spirit of the Hoyte/Shankar Agreement, the Jackson/Sedoc Agreed Minutes and the Grant/Kolader Memorandum of Understanding which together created the environment and the prospects not only for a peaceful resolution to a potential area for problems but also for the joint utilization of the resources in the area of dispute for the benefit of both the Surinamese and the Guyanese people.

ii) Both Governments should place the settlement of the maritime border dispute on the fast track.

(iii) Joint Meetings of the Guyana/Suriname National Border Commissions and the Guyana/Suriname Cooperation Council must be reactivated.

(iv) Both countries should designate the disputed maritime area as a Special Zone for Sustainable Development to be jointly managed by a Guyana/Mixed Authority to jointly manage and exploit the resources in the area for the mutual benefit of the two countries pending the settlement of the maritime boundary by peaceful means. Both Governments may wish to include representatives of regional or international institutions to serve on the Authority.


Guyana's relations with Suriname have been clearly enunciated by President Bharrat Jagdeo in a statement on June 8, 2000. He declared:

. . . I wish to reiterate that Guyana has always viewed as important the development of harmonious, peaceful and productive relations with our neighbours. Let me underscore the need for friendly relations between Guyana and Suriname which should be conducted on the basis of understanding and mutual respect within the context of the rules and principles of international law. However, I would like to assure the citizens of Guyana that my Government will not accept any threats or, or the resort to, the use of force by any external actor against this nation state. My Government stands firm on the maintenance of Guyana's sovereignty and will take whatever action necessary to preserve and protect its territorial integrity.

101. This position was echoed by Minister of Foreign Affairs Clement Rohee who stated at the end of unfruitful discussions in Paramaribo on June 18, 2000:

We will continue to strive for good neighbourly relations with all our neighbours . . . These relations should be conducted on the basis of understanding and mutual respect. However, no one should assume or encourage others to assume that the Guyanese people shall be anything less than resolute in maintaining their territorial integrity.

*Kutari-Curuni: "Kutari" is sometimes spelt "Cutari". "Curuni" is sometimes used to denote both rivers.


Appendix I (Map 1)

Extract of a map showing the boundary area between Guyana and Surinam, published in Holland in 1889. The inscription of the map is translated as follows:


British, Dutch and French.

Based on the best (available) information and my own measurements drawn in 1888 by

Government Land Surveyor in Suriname.
Issued with the approval of His Excellency
Mr. H. J. SMIDT,
Governor of the Colony of Suriname
Amsterdam, J. H. de Bussy, 1889.

This official map prepared by the Dutch authorities is of special significance as it shows both the New River and the Kutari River (shown on the map as the continuation of the Corentyne) but with the Kutari as the boundary river.
(See Appendix II -- Map 2)

It is also of interest that the boundary of Surinam is shown on this map as the eastern bank of the Corentyne River.
Appendix III (Map 3)

Extract from a General Map of the Kutari and Aramatau Hovers, prepared by the British Guiana/Brazil Boundary Commission. The map shows the Tri-junction point (TJP) at the source of River Kutari with an insert in larger scale.

A Treaty signed in 1926 by Britain and Brazil for the demarcation of the frontier between Brazil and British Guiana provided for the setting up of a Commission to delimit the frontier. The Netherlands Government were notified of the proposed work of the Commission and agreed to participate. In fact the method of determining the point at which the boundaries of the three countries met was suggested by the Netherlands Government who in their Note to the British Government of February 27, 1933, proposed that the boundary between Surinam and British Guiana should follow:

"the path Trombetas-Cutari from its extremity on the Cutari leading over a rock, by Farabee called 'Farogle', till its point of contact with the Brazilian frontier. This point of contact will be the tri-junction point. . . ."

This map showing the Tri-junction point was signed by Admiral Kayser, Head of the Netherlands section of the Boundary Commission, together with the Heads of the Brazilian and British sections of the Commission.

(This account has been compiled by the Guyana Embassy, Washington DC, from the published writings of Cedric Joseph, Harold Sahadeo, Rudolph Collins and Odeen Ishmael, and from materials on this topic published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

(Embassy of Guyana, Washington DC, July 2000)

Back to History of the Republic of Guyana


(Original text published by Ministry of External Affairs of Guyana, 1969)

(Embassy of Guyana, Washington DC, October 1999)
July 2000. - guyananews.org

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