"Understanding And Mutual Respect -- The Basis For Friendly Relations"

-- says President Jagdeo

The following is President Bharrat Jagdeo's statement at a media conference held on June 8, 2000 to discuss the Guyana-Suriname relations.

Ladies and gentlemen of the media:

I am heartened by the spontaneous and united response of the Guyanese people in defence of our sovereign territory and the nation's interest, as a result of sudden hostile action on our eastern border with the Republic of Suriname.

In 1998, our Government granted a licence to CGX Resources Incorporated to conduct offshore petroleum exploration in Guyana.

Since the concession was granted, CGX commenced mobilization of resources, including funding from capital markets. From information at our disposal, on-site evaluations revealed substantial oil deposits in targeted areas within the Guyana concession. CGX positioned its rig in the concession in preparation for drilling. I want to make it very clear that the rig was located within Guyana's maritime boundaries as stipulated in the 1977 Maritime Boundaries Act of Guyana.

The Republic of Suriname issued a Diplomatic Note on May 11 contending that exploration activities were being conducted within its territory. Suriname sought clarification on the issue and requested "immediate termination" of the exploration activities. Our response on May 17 was that the exploration in progress was being conducted in the territory of Guyana.

In a subsequent Note dated May 31, the Government of Suriname claimed that the petroleum exploration activity "constituted an illegal act" and invited Guyana for talks "in order to clarify any misunderstanding on the maritime boundary."

In our response on June 2, we again reiterated that the exploration activities were being conducted in the territory of Guyana. We informed Suriname that Guyana remained "favourably disposed to engage in dialogue either at the bilateral or multilateral levels with a view to addressing any misunderstandings that may exist on the side of the Surinamese Government concerning the common maritime boundary between the Cooperative Republic of Guyana and the Republic of Suriname."

That day, June 2, I received a telephone call from my colleague President Wijdenbosch. After a cordial exchange of views, we agreed that the issue should be resolved urgently and that our Foreign Ministers should be in immediate contact. Guyana immediately dispatched a diplomatic Note inviting Suriname to meet within twenty-four hours.

I must stress here, my deep disappointment over the fact that while consultations were taking place at the highest levels of Government between Guyana and Suriname with a view to diffusing this issue, Suriname violated the territorial integrity of Guyana by intruding in our airspace and territorial waters on four occasions on June 2 and 3 at the site of CGX's oil drilling operation.

CGX was forced to move from its original location out of concern for the welfare and safety of its personnel on board the rig in the face of the hostile and intimidatory action carried out by Suriname.

Guyana immediately lodged a strong protest with the Government of Suriname for violating its airspace and territorial waters and called on the Government of Suriname to desist from committing further hostile acts.

I also immediately dispatched a letter to the Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, Prime Minister Denzil Douglas of St Kitts and Nevis informing him of these developments. In my letter, I further protested the aggressive actions by Suriname and requested that the Community be alerted to this situation. I urged that Member States be reminded of the decision taken by the Heads of Government at their 1995 Intersessional Meeting in Belize on the application by Suriname for membership of the Community.

That decision states that the Heads of Government agreed, "Member States and the Secretariat make every effort towards the resolution of the Guyana-Suriname border controversy as well as other outstanding difficulties which impede the development of relations between the two countries". The Heads also agreed that following "the approval of Suriname's application, these efforts be maintained with a view to persuading Suriname as a member of the Community and Common Market to develop with Guyana, the type of relations appropriate to Member States".

I requested Prime Minister Douglas to use his good office as Chairman of the Community to take whatever action he deems appropriate at the political and diplomatic levels consistent with the decisions of the Heads."

As you are aware, a Communiqué was issued following the Special Ministerial Meeting between the Foreign Ministers of Guyana and Suriname in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago which was held on June 6, 2000.

Guyana's immediate objective is to allow the CGX oilrig to return unhindered to its original location. The representatives of Suriname have undertaken to respond by Tuesday, June 13, 2000 and we look forward to receiving their response.

At my request the Foreign Minister briefed the Political Parties in Parliament on June 3. We will continue to keep all interested parties and Social Partners informed and involved.

I wish to reiterate that Guyana has always viewed as important the development of harmonious, peaceful and productive relations with its 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 of, 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.

Again, I wish to thank the Guyanese people for their demonstration of unity and support on this issue.