On June 2, 2000 Guyana's airspace and territorial waters were violated by Surinamese Military Forces at the Eagle site of CGX’s oil -drilling operations. These hostile and intimidatory actions by the Surinamese posed a serious treat to the lives of CGX’s personnel and property while they were conducting their legitimate activities within Guyana's maritime boundary.
On June 3, 2000, the Government of Guyana lodged a strong protest with the Government of Suriname for violating Guyana's territory. The protest was contained in an official note handed to the Surinamese Ambassador to Guyana H.E. Mr. Humphrey Hasrat who was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on the same day.
The government of Guyana has reaffirmed its support for the activities of CGX Resources Inc. in Guyana. It has also pledged to do its utmost to ensure that no harm comes to the personnel and property of the Canadian Petroleum Company while they are in Guyana's territory. And only recently His Excellency President Bharrat Jagdeo declared the "Guyana will maintain a strong diplomatic offensive and will be prepared at the military level to protect its borders".
Both Guyana and Suriname are members of Caricom and the Group of 77. With regards to Caricom, on the occasion of the accession of Suriname to the Caribbean Community, Heads of Government at their Sixth Inter-Sessional Meeting in Belize in 1995 urged that, "Members States 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". It was also agreed that following the approval of Suriname’s accession, these efforts be maintained with a view to persuading the Surinamese as a Member of the Community and Common Market to develop with Guyana, the type of relations appropriate to Members States.
In the context of the Group of 77, the recently held South Summit in Havana called "for restraint in international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of any State as one of the principles which continue to be the foundation for friendly and peaceful relations among States and for the solution of disputes and conflicts by peaceful means".
In this regard the Government of Guyana is committed to promoting friendly and good neighborly relations with Suriname as with all its neighbors.
In light of the developments of June 3, 2000 the two Governments met in Trinidad and Tobago on June 6, 2000. At the meeting the Foreign Ministers recalled the decision taken by the Presidents of Guyana and Suriname in 1989 which laid the basis for the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) of February 25, 1991. The MOU governed the granting of concessions, which allowed the two sides to discuss modalities and mechanisms to be observed for treatment of the Area of Overlap, pending the settlement of the maritime boundaries between Guyana and Suriname.
The two Governments at that time had agreed that with respect to Petroleum Licenses already granted by the government of Guyana which fall within the Area of Overlap that those licenses shall apply until the border issues between Guyana and Suriname is determined and:
"The Rights granted through these licenses in the Area of Overlap shall be fully respected and not be disturbed and further the Governments agreed that nothing should be done that would impair Rights of the said licensees in the said Area of Overlap".
"That with respect to the obligations undertaken by the licensees in the said Area of Overlap, the Governments agreed that nothing should be done which would increase the obligations of the said licensees in the Area of Overlap".
After the talks in Trinidad and Tobago were concluded a Joint Communiqué was issued in which the parties agreed to continue the talks in Guyana and Suriname and reconvene the Joint Meeting of their respective National Border Commissions. The Joint Communiqué also stated that within the context of improving relations between the two sides that "immediate steps should be taken to reconvene the next Meeting of the Cooperation Council in order to advance the many programmes designed to achieve that objective". Guyana had hoped to at least reach an agreement with Suriname that would allow the CGX oil rig to return unhindered to its original drill site.
The two sides had agreed that pending the settlement of the Border issue, the representatives of the respective Agencies responsible for Petroleum Development would meet to formulate the modalities which would ensure that the opportunities available within the said area can be jointly utilized by the two countries.
As agreed at the special Ministerial Meeting held in Trinidad and Tobago, the Joint Technical Committee met on June 13 and 14 in Georgetown. Surname’s delegation included the acting Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources, Errol Alibux and its Foreign Minister, Errol Snijders. Foreign Minister Clement Rohee headed Guyana's team.
At that meeting efforts were again made to ensure the return of the oil rig to its original site at Eagle which Guyana has maintained was in its territorial waters when it was forced out by Surinamese gunboats.
Guyana proposed at that meeting the discussion of modalities for the treatment of the exploration and exploitation activities in the area of the North-Eastern and North-Western seaward boundaries of Guyana and Suriname respectively. The modalities were based on those contained in a 1991 Memorandum of Understanding which the two countries signed allowing for oil exploration by a British oil company BHP-LASMO.
It was in this context that Guyana proposed the joint sharing of resources. However, the two sides failed to make substantial progress, and Guyana's demand for the unhindered return of the oil rig was not agreed to.
Suriname in its turn, requested Guyana to revoke the license it had granted to CGX and to agree to Suriname granting the license instead. Guyana rejected this proposal as unacceptable for the following reasons:
Given the inconclusiveness of the political consultations, the Meeting of the Joint Technical Committee was not reconvened on June 14.
The latter Meeting in Suriname collapsed when the Surinamese side called for an end to the negotiations and recommended that the matter be referred to the two Presidents for consideration. In his statement at the closing session of the meeting Minister Clement Rohee said "This situation will undoubtedly leave a bitter taste in the mouth of all Guyanese people having been deprived by their neighbour of a vital opportunity to enjoy the benefits from a major investment which would have contributed substantially to the economic and social development of Guyana."
At this point in time, three sessions of talks have failed to resolve the main issue, which took Guyana to the table. The Government of Suriname has not responded to the request to have the rig returned unhindered to its position at the Eagle site. However, the Surinamese President, Jules Wijdenbosch wrote his Guyanese counter-part requesting a meeting to discuss the issue. President Bharrat Jagdeo has in response requested that President Wijdenbosch submit "very specific" proposals to resolve the maritime border issue.
As this issue evolves Guyana now sees its options open and there is the strong possibility of the involvement of Caricom. Guyana had written to the Heads of Government and Chairman of Caricom Prime Minister of St. Kitts Dr. Denzil Douglas, asking that they endorse the proposal by Foreign Affairs Minister Clement Rohee, to the Caricom Council of Ministers meeting, that Suriname be sanctioned for its recent unfriendly act towards Guyana.
Caricom Ministers have not disclosed what recommendations will be taken to the Heads of Government twenty-first annual summit due in less than two weeks, however, it is clear that the Guyana-Suriname border issue will be on the agenda.