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Regional News

September 22, 2007
Corentyne River was not an issue in arbitration - Reichler
Stabroek News

Statements by Surinamese officials on the award of the UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) that Paramaribo had "won" sovereignty over the Corentyne River are untrue since the Corentyne River was not an issue in the arbitration.

In addition, Suriname's statements that it won because the tribunal did not award monetary compensation; that the arbitral award gave 51% of the disputed area to Guyana and 49% to Suriname; and that President Bharrat Jagdeo has proposed joint development of the offshore hydrocarbon resources, are also untrue.

So said Co-Agent of Guyana's legal team, Paul Reichler, who was among those who led the team and represented Guyana before the UN Arbitral Tribunal which handed down its rulings on September 17 and which was made public by Guyana's and Suriname's Presidents simultaneously on Thursday. The award gives two-thirds of the disputed zone to Guyana including the CGX well site which sparked Suriname's military intervention in the first place.

Reichler, and legal team Co-Agents Sir Shridath Ramphal and Dr. Payam Akhavan of McGill University, met with the local media at the NCN studios on Homestretch Avenue yesterday. Also present were Minister of Foreign Affairs Rudy Insanally, Director General in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Elisabeth Harper and Director of the Frontiers Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Keith George.

In response to a question on Suriname President Ronald Venetiaan's request that Guyana agree that the documents on the written and oral presentations of parties in the case be made public, Sir Shridath, on the authority of President Jagdeo, said that Guyana would be happy to make them available to the public.

He said that they believed in transparency and the documents were a treasure trove for scholars, the media, and the public in general. He said they were pleased when they saw Suriname's request on the issue. In the beginning and during the arbitral process, he said that they were not available because they had agreed to the need for confidentiality.

On the issue of Suriname's claim that it won sovereignty over the Corentyne River, Reichler said that the river was not an issue in the arbitration. He explained that "The river itself, south of the point where it enters the sea, is treated under international law as if it were a land boundary between the two states. As such it is completely outside the jurisdiction of an arbitral tribunal established under the Law of the Sea Convention."

He said that Suriname itself told the Arbitral Tribunal that it lacked jurisdiction with respect to the land boundary. "Thus, the arbitral tribunal stated specifically that there is nothing in its award that affects the land boundary, which includes the Corentyne River."

He quoted the award which stated "the tribunal recalls that Suriname argued that it (the tribunal) does not have jurisdiction to determine any question relating to the land boundary between the parties. The tribunal's findings have no consequence for any land boundary that might exist between the parties."

On the statement that Suriname won because the tribunal did not award monetary compensation to Guyana, Reichler said that Guyana did not pursue monetary compensation as a remedy for Suriname's armed eviction of the CGX oil rig in 2000, contenting itself with a request for condemnation, which the tribunal has issued.

Severe and unprecedented

He noted that the condemnation was severe and unprecedented, the tribunal having found that Suriname violated not only the Convention on the Law of the Sea but also the United Nations Charter and general international law. "It is the first time that this has ever occurred in a maritime delimitation case," he noted.

On the statement that the arbitral award gave 51 per cent of the disputed area to Guyana and 49 per cent to Suriname Reichler said that "This is completely untrue." He said it appears that Suriname extracted the 51 per cent to 49 per cent ratio from a different part of the award which had nothing to do with the division of the area in dispute. This was made clear in the award at paragraph 392, page 127 and it bears no relation to how the area in dispute was divided between the two countries.

Reichler explained that according to Suriname itself, the area in dispute consists of about 31,600 km sq. When the boundary line established by the tribunal is superimposed on this area, it gives two-thirds of the area to Guyana and one third to Suriname.

"The disparity is even greater in Guyana's favour when we consider the most important part of the area in dispute, which is the part that lies within 100 miles of the coast, because that is then shallower area where oil drilling is more practicable, and where significant deposits are believed to exist. In that area, Guyana received 85% and Suriname received only 15%, a ratio of more than 5 to 1 in Guyana 's favour," he said.

On the statement that President Jagdeo proposed joint development, Reichler said that there is nothing in Jagdeo's letter of September 19, 2007 to Suriname's President Venetiaan "that even mentions, let alone proposes, joint development of offshore resources." He read the text of Jagdeo's message which said, "I wish to reiterate to you my commitment, and that of my country men and women, to cooperating with you and the people of Suriname towards hastening the development of our two countries through cooperation for our mutual benefit. We do have the mechanism in place to realize our goal of learning and benefiting from the experience of each other.

"I am therefore confident that you will agree with me that the Guyana-Suriname Cooperation Council should be provided with the necessary mandate and political support it requires to accelerate cooperation between our two countries."

Reichler said, "The President has authorised us to say that he has neither made, nor intends to make, such a (joint development) proposal to Suriname."

It should be noted that following the eviction of the CGX oil rig in June 2000 while Guyana strove to seek a resolution to the problem through bilateral means, President Jagdeo in January, 2001 had proposed to Venetiaan that Guyana and Suriname jointly explore and exploit the hydrocarbon reserves in the disputed area.

The talks on this issue subsequently broke down and in 2002, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rudy Insanally had given notice that were no solution to be found on the issue bilaterally and regionally, Guyana would proceed to the UN to seek a lasting solution.

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