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Border dispute chatter at reception for visiting Surinamese Speaker

Speaker of Suriname’s National Assembly, Dr. Jennifer Geerlings-Simons; Opposition Leader, David Granger; Speaker of Guyana’s National Assembly, Raphael Trotman and Guyana’s Prime Minister, Samuel Hinds.

The outstanding land and river border dispute between Guyana and Suriname featured somewhat prominently in the early hours of a visit by the Speaker of that Dutch-speaking neighbour’s National Assembly, Dr. Jennifer Geerlings-Simons.

Geerlings-Simons, who is a key figure in President Desi Bouterse’s National Democratic Party (NDP), stressed the importance of the two countries strengthening their friendship for the benefit of their peoples. “We shall have differences because we are neighbours and because we come from a common history where all issues have not been settled so we have the task to settle them in order to be friends,” she said.

To applause, she highlighted the importance of neighbours being friends or their lives might not be happy. “We need to be friends in order to further develop our peoples and we keep the peace and the development of both of our countries,” she said at a reception held in her honour at the Impeccable Banquet Hall, Brickdam.

The border dispute is over Suriname’s claim of the 6,000 square mile New River Triangle which is part of Guyanese territory in the south-east of the country. Suriname has also claimed all of the Corentyne River which borders the neighbouring South American countries. A Tribunal of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in September 2007 settled the maritime boundary between the two countries more than three years after Guyana took the matter to that body- a move that had stemmed from Surinamese gun boats in June 2000 chasing out an oil exploration rig from a concession that had been awarded to a Canadian company.

The Speaker of Guyana’s National Assembly, Raphael Trotman hoped that the two countries could resolve their differences and eschew force in addressing the border dispute that occasionally leads to tensions.

“This gathering is different because it tells us whatever differences we may have from time to time, it is important that we eschew the use of force, the threat of force, the resort to force and settle our differences peacefully and peaceably,” said Trotman who has studied Strategic Defence in the United States.

Opposition Leader, David Granger regarded the visit by the Surinamese Speaker and her delegation as a step in Guyana and Suriname being both friends and neighbours.

Granger, a retired Brigadier of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), hoped that the eventual bridging of the Corentyne River could unite rather than divide the two former European colonies. “Let us look to the future. Let us show the rest of this continent that the two smallest states can make the biggest contribution to living and working together to create a bright future for our people,” he said.

Prime Minister and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Samuel Hinds hailed the visit and talks by the Surinamese delegation as an opportunity to further strengthen relations bilaterally and integrate themselves in the 15-nation Caribbean Community (CARICOM). “Apart from the people-to-people contact, I do believe that the cooperation initiative of this kind is a key factor in the promotion and advancement of parliamentary democracy as it allows for the enhancement of knowledge and understanding of the governance process of our two countries,” said Hinds.

Among the highlights of the Surinamese Speaker’s visit is a meeting on Friday with members of the parliamentary sectoral committee on Foreign Relations and the Guyana’s House Speaker to focus on the creation of an inter-parliamentary group consisting of members of the two parliaments.

While here she will be paying courtesy calls on Guyana’s President, Donald Ramotar; the Opposition Leader, Granger and  the Leader of the Alliance For Change, Khemraj Ramjattan. She is also scheduled to tour the St. George’s Cathedral, Demerara Harbour Bridge, Guyana heritage Museum and the  Tuschen Housing Scheme.