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Guyana sets conditions for talks with Suriname on New River Triangle dispute

The New River Triangle

Guyana’s President, David Granger on Thursday laid down conditions for discussing the territorial dispute with Suriname over the New River Triangle including access to documents and no use of force.

“Guyana, in view of the fact that there is at present a mechanism for addressing this matter, is willing to continue a bilateral discourse with the Government of Suriname on the matter of that country’s claims. That discourse, however, must be grounded on the principles of mutual respect and a repudiation of the use of force,” he told the 65-seat National Assembly.

Addressing the Parliament on the topic, “Guyana’s Patrimony,”, he said while the British Archives are open to all and Guyana has nothing to hide, Suriname needed to take steps to  provide documents in its possession to its western neighbour.

“Guyana has already made a large portion of its documents available to Suriname for its scrutiny. It is hoped that the Suriname Government will do likewise by requesting the Netherlands Government to open the relevant Dutch Archives to facilitate research by both sides,” said Granger, a retired Brigadier of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF).

He said if the two countries could not reach a settlement to the border issue, they should take the matter to a competent authority.

“Suriname, if it is convinced that its claim can withstand legal scrutiny, should agree to take the matter before an internationally recognized adjudicatory body. Guyana is of the view that, if an agreement cannot be reached at the bilateral level within a given time-frame, the matter should be taken to adjudication so that this controversy can be concluded,” he said.

Based on Suriname’s interpretation of the origin of the Corentyne River, that former Dutch colony is claiming the New River Triangle whose area is about 3,000 square miles or 15,600 square kilometers.

Saying that he did not understand what Suriname’s President, Desi Bouterse meant by bringing back the New River Triangle would be brought back on the agenda, he expressed confidence that the boundary between Guyana and Suriname was “definitively established in 1936.” “There is an agreement as to what constitutes the territory of Guyana and what constitutes the territory of Suriname despite the fact that there is no formal treaty that encapsulates that agreement,” he said.

Granger, who is also a historian, said the Netherlands could not have bequeathed to Suriname at that country’s independence on 25thNovember 1975 what it did not possess.

Suriname, in the absence of a formal treaty, sought to seize Guyana’s territory  based on an arbitrary, municipal, legislative resolution passed in October 1965. “Guyana has no doubt about the soundness of the bases on which it exercises sovereignty of its territory.  It has no fear in having Suriname’s claim to its territory resolved by an adjudicatory process.

Back in 1969, Guyanese soldiers retaliated to gunfire by uniformed Surinamese in the New River Triangle. The Surinamese fled, leaving behind a partly completed airstrip, a camp underground bunkers especially constructed to protect against shell and mortar attacks and was equipped with towers and machine-gun emplacements, a Caterpillar bulldozer, a jeep, an electric power plant, a mechanical water pump, power driven hand saws, a large refrigerator and well-stocked kitchens.

Other forms of Surinamese aggression include the expulsion of  5,000 Guyanese (and Haitian) workers on the pretext of national security and the eviction in 2000 of the Guyana-licensed, Canadian-operated CGX petroleum exploration platform from what is believed to be one of the region’s largest petroleum and natural gas fields.

The Guyana-Suriname maritime boundary dispute was settled by the United Nations Tribunal on the Law of the Sea in September 2007, essentially awarding Guyana the area that its eastern neighbour had claimed.