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Regional News

February 26, 2004
Guyana takes boundary dispute with Suriname to UN, Int'l Tribunal
Guyana Chronicle

GUYANA yesterday formally sought the intervention of the United Nations in an extended bid to hasten the resolution of its maritime boundary dispute with Suriname and give fresh impetus to development plans for the country's eastern frontier.

The Guyana Government took this initiative on the heels of its notification of its move to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, Germany.

The Government formally notified the Government of Suriname of its intention yesterday, submitting to Paramaribo a Statement of Claim outlining its case under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea.

Guyana's initiative caps efforts by successive governments - beginning as far back as 1989 when President Desmond Hoyte paid a State visit to Suriname and met with President Shankar - to resolve differences between the neighboring countries over their offshore boundary.

Among the most recent were meetings of the Guyana/Suriname Joint National Border Sub-Commission in Georgetown and Paramaribo between May and October of 2002. "But Suriname frustrated all efforts at agreement," President Bharrat Jagdeo lamented in an address to the Nation last evening. And this impasse isn't doing either Guyana or Suriname any good.

Said President Jagdeo in part last evening: One of Guyana's differences with neighbouring Suriname over boundary issues - "that relating to our offshore boundary - has been the subject of current controversy in a context that has a bearing on our development prospects. Those prospects ultimately determine Guyana's capacity for raising living standards for all our people - but especially for the poorest in our community. This is pointedly so since Suriname has taken aggressive action to frustrate the exploration and 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 - Suriname's development prospects are blighted also. It is the poorest in both countries who are most damaged by these policies and actions.

"Mindful of this, the Government of Guyana has pursued every avenue of discussion and negotiation with Suriname, bilaterally and in the Councils of CARICOM, to resolve this matter and to allow offshore mineral exploitation to take place on a basis beneficial to both countries. Few things could be more urgently necessary; yet Suriname has steadfastly refused to cooperate in these efforts...

"In part, the Government of Suriname has sought to link this matter with its contentions in relation to the New River Triangle in the south of Guyana. In doing so, it has been prepared to sacrifice the economic development of each country on the altar of a claim that we consider to be misconceived. The people of Guyana cannot accept that sacrifice. It is both wrong and sad; for, quite apart from Guyana's long-standing rejection of this claim, it has no relevance to the mutual benefits that can accrue today to both countries from offshore mineral development - save a potential for frustrating them.

"In these circumstances, the Government of Guyana has a clear and pressing duty to seek to resolve our maritime differences with Suriname by every peaceful means."

In invoking Article 287 and Annex VII of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Guyana has named Thomas Frank, currently Professor Emeritus of the New York University School of Law and a distinguished international law scholar, as its appointed member of the Arbitral Tribunal that will be addressing the maritime boundary dispute with Suriname.

Guyana's legal team for these proceedings will be former Foreign Afffairs Minister Sir Shridath Ramphal, Mr. Paul Reichler of the Washington Law Firm of Foley Hoag, and Dr. Payam Akhavan of Yale Law School.

President Jagdeo said in his address to the nation he hoped "these procedures will not be long-drawn-out," though the potential for protraction is well known.

"Fortunately, the action we have initiated provides an opportunity for provisional arrangements appropriate to the circumstances. We will explore all these possibilities so that the people of Guyana can obtain relief from the freeze on offshore mineral development that the actions of the Government of Suriname have occasioned."

Added the Guyanese Leader: "Everyone can be assured that we will proceed with the arbitral process with Suriname which we have initiated in the spirit of the United Nations Convention and in keeping with the highest standards of international amity - not as an adversarial process, but one designed to establish a sound basis for economic development in the maritime regions of both Suriname and Guyana. We hope the Government of Suriname will cooperate with us in achieving this.

"We are very mindful of our relationships with Suriname as fellow members of CARICOM - relationships which it is not our intention to impair in any way. Indeed, we reaffirm our commitment to Caribbean regional integration and in particular to the implementation of the Rose Hall Declaration on Regional Governance and Integrated Development to which we agreed last July in Jamaica. Problems between Member States of CARICOM point to the need for those more mature integration arrangements (including the Caribbean Court of Justice) not to the weakening of the limited structure we have so far developed. We have informed the Secretary-General of CARICOM of our action and of these sentiments, and through him all Member States of the Community. We remain steadfast to the highest purposes and commitments of CARICOM - a CARICOM that includes our brothers and sisters in Suriname. I have indicated all this in a personal communication to the President of Suriname.".

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