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Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali speaks during a press conference. PA

Guyana and Venezuela agree to ‘refrain from escalating conflict’ over disputed border region

Ali and Maduro first met individually with prime ministers and other officials from the region.

THE LEADERS OF Guyana and Venezuela have promised not to use threats or force against each other, but talks held yesterday failed to reach an agreement in a bitter dispute over a vast border region rich with oil and minerals.

A joint commission composed of the foreign ministers of both countries and other officials will address the problem with a report expected within three months.

Guyanese President Irfaan Ali and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro agreed to meet again in Brazil within three months or at another agreed time, according to an 11-point declaration following talks on the Caribbean island of St Vincent.

They agreed to “refrain, whether by words or deeds, from escalating any conflict”, the declaration said.

Tension over the border region of Essequibo has raised worries about a military conflict, with Venezuela insisting Essequibo was part of its territory during the Spanish colonial period and arguing a 1966 Geneva agreement with Britain and then-British Guiana, now Guyana, nullified a border drawn in 1899 by international arbitrators.

The century-old dispute was reignited with the discovery of oil in Guyana and escalated when Venezuela voted in a referendum on 3 December to claim two-thirds of their smaller neighbour.

The meeting between the two leaders took place at the island’s main international airport with various Caribbean prime ministers.

The declaration said Guyana believes the border controversy should be resolved by the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands and that Venezuela did not recognise the court or its jurisdiction in the dispute.

Neither president spoke to journalists after their meeting.

Earlier in the day, Guyana’s government issued a statement saying Essequibo “is not up for discussion, negotiation or deliberation”.

“All of this belongs to Guyana,” Ali said during a break in talks, pointing to a thick leather bracelet on his right wrist featuring the outline of Guyana. “No narrative propaganda (or) decree can change this. This is Guyana.

“Guyana is not seeking war, but Guyana reserves the right to work with all of our partners to ensure the defence of our country.”

Maduro said ahead of the meeting that “we will make the most of it so that our Latin America and the Caribbean remains a zone of peace”.

Ali and Maduro first met individually with prime ministers and other officials from the region.

Ahead of the meeting, Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, said that “to use a cricket metaphor, this is not a one-day cricket match”.

“The fact that they will be talking is very important on friendly, neutral grounds like St Vincent and the Grenadines,” he said.

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