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Regional News

March 21, 2004
Suriname could face damages over CGX incident
Stabroek News

Suriname could have to pay damages to Guyana for evicting the CGX drilling rig in 2000 and other lost economic opportunities, if it loses a ruling on the maritime dispute before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

On Friday, President Roland Venetiaan outlined in some detail his government's position at a press conference in Paramaribo , which he hosted with Foreign Minister Marie Levens.

He warned that should the ruling go against Suriname it would be compelled to compensate Guyana for damages including the losses resulting from the loss of foreign investment and other economic advantages which could have occurred from unhindered exploration and exploitation in Guyana 's maritime zone.

He said his government would file its counterclaim with the Tribunal, headquartered in Hamburg , Germany , before March 24 (Wednesday). This he said was in Suriname 's best interest since the country had no other choice as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

He said once Suriname responds to Guyana 's claim before the Tribunal, it would have to comply with any order the Tribunal makes about Guyana 's request for temporary relief which could include joint exploration by the two countries. One of the temporary measures Guyana is seeking is to have Suriname refrain from actions which would hinder a restart of exploration in the disputed area or hamper exploration of possible oil reserves. This would be subject to equitable provision arrangements of a practical nature as prescribed by the Tribunal and might include a joint or international authority that would maintain all revenues in trust for the parties pending settlement of the dispute.

Venetiaan said apart from its claim, Guyana was also seeking temporary measures, which include an undertaking that there would be no reprisals against Guyanese fishermen. He said the request was reasonable and his government would consider it.

He said the international law firm of Clavard, Swain and Moore would head the legal team before the Tribunal and that it would name its arbitrator after consultations. Representatives of the firm were expected to be in Suriname last weekend for talks with the government officials.

Guyana has named former attorney-general Sir Shridath Ramphal as its agent and Foreign Minister Rudy Insanally as its co-agent, and they are supported by a legal team, which includes Paul Reichler.

Venetiaan told journalists Guyana 's claim is that the border should be based on a line of equal distance from identified points on the eastern and western banks of the Corentyne River . He explained that if Guyana 's position is accepted then the border between Guyana and Suriname would be in the middle of the Corentyne River .

But he said Suriname needs to be cautious in addressing the border along its full length (south to north) because it would not want to have questioned whether the Corentyne River in its full breadth is Suriname 's territory. "Therefore we will not address the problem from south to north," he said and instead would address the land-based dispute and the maritime area, but not the river. He claimed that the entire Corentyne River belonged to Suriname and asserted that it would be making a case for a special regime.

He added that Guyana is also asking the Tribunal to declare that Suriname had breached the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea which required disputes to be settled in a peaceful manner when it used force to expel the CGX oil rig.

Venetiaan declined to disclose other aspects of his government's counterclaim, but said while it has in force a maritime border demarcation, it would be consulting with its lawyers where this demarcation should be moved, and joking that perhaps it would be further west to the edge of Georgetown . He declined to say too whether Suriname 's counterclaim would seek to prohibit any exploration for oil in the area of Guyana 's territorial sea that it is claiming as its own.

In his opening statement Venetian recalled that during the bilateral negotiations under the Jagdeo/Venetiaan 2002 agreement, Suriname had proposed that to facilitate an agreement, Guyana would have to provide Suriname with information about its activities in the area of dispute over the previous years. He said this was the point at which the negotiations ended and Guyana moved to the Hamburg Tribunal. He said the agreement to which they were working would have been similar to the one from which Guyana withdrew during the Caricom-facilitated negotiations.

He said his government did not withdraw from the talks because it insisted on linking the territorial and maritime border disputes, even though that was a concern. Venetiaan said prior to 2000, exploration by several companies was undertaken in the area in dispute but only after discussions between the countries.

Responding to the comments in the media that Suriname should have taken its border dispute to the International Court of Justice in The Hague , Venetiaan said this avenue had been closed to Suriname when it joined the court in 1987, agreeing that the court would not deal with border issues involving Suriname . However, he said his government was in the process of studying the reasons why the reservations were taken and would then take a decision on whether to rescind them.

He also rejected the suggestion that Suriname should deploy its naval forces to the disputed area as it had done in 2000, pointing out that the CGX platform was no longer present in the area.

Venetiaan described Guyana 's move to the Tribunal as a burden on both countries' people, saying the lawyers' fees would amount to about US$10 million in addition to the travel costs of the arbitrators and the fees of the local lawyers and scholars.

He noted the offer of the Netherlands to meet the legal fees incurred in the settlement of Suriname 's border disputes as well as provide all the necessary information, and said that his government would explore its willingness to meet part of the legal expenses.

However, he said, despite the burden that would be imposed on the Surinamese people, they would acknowledge their responsibility and act in accordance with the national interest.

Venetiaan also appealed to the media and other organisations not to agitate the people with wild stories.

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