Guyana fires back at Venezuela for denying military shooting

–  cautions against destabilisation of diplomatic relations

The Guyana Government has expressed grave concerns about the Venezuelan Government’s staunch denial essequibo-riverof the shooting incident which almost claimed the lives of four Guyanese.
Approximately two weeks after the alleged shooting incident in the Cuyuni River, Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni), the Venezuelan Government has denied that the shooting occurred, maintaining that officers of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces did not open fire at the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) officers as is being reported locally.
Guyana Defence Force Chief of Staff Brigadier Mark Phillips officially announced on May 30, 2016, that workers attached to GGMC came under fire from the Venezuelan Army whilst they were patrolling an area along the border.
The Guyana Government had since dispatched a Note Verbale to the Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Affairs conveying its gravest concern over this incident, and calling on the Venezuelan Government to desist from such provocative and dangerous actions on the border.
However the Venezuelan Government issued a media release, denying that the incident ever occurred.
Responding to this development, the Guyana Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement Sunday evening, registering its deepest concerns over the fact that the Venezuelan Government did not find the courtesy to formally respond to the claims, but to instead choose to strongly deny the allegations, especially in light of the diplomatic situation.
According to the statement, the Venezuelan Government’s stance flies in the face of direct reports which the authorities of Guyana received from the victims as well as the explanation which the representatives from Guyana’s military received from the Venezuelan army Corporal In Charge of the six troops who were involved in the incident.
“The Venezuelan authorities would have done well to have checked with the troops in question at the observation post, La Boca, on Ankoko Island who had furnished Guyana’s investigators with an explanation which the Government of Guyana believes and which it has found to involve unacceptable behaviour because it assumed that they had rights of policing the river which is in Guyana’s territory,” the statement posited.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry reminded that in the past such incidents led to the loss of lives.
“It is irresponsible to brush off this incident, an occurrence which the Government of Guyana continues to hold as being completely reprehensible” the government stated.
In this regard, the Guyana Government reiterated that it categorically dismissed the claims by the Venezuelan Government that Guyana’s actions are part of an international media campaign to destabilise their country.
Furthermore, the Guyana Government re-emphasised that Venezuela must desist from such provocative actions on Guyana’s border since such acts could only lead to destabilisation of relations between the two countries.
Recently, President David Granger had expressed confidence that the situation will not escalate into an international conflict, noting that it was just a localised matter: “It is localised…It was a local incident and we are not saying that there is no fault but my information is that the rain was falling very heavily and there might have been some misunderstanding with the boat that was taking the officials….”
Nonetheless, Granger made it clear that the matter is still unacceptable.
This is not the first time there has been tension at the Guyana/Venezuela border. In September last year, the Venezuelan military dispatched heavily armed troops as well as a gunboat and other heavy artillery to the Cuyuni area.
Then in December, a Venezuelan helicopter landed at the Kaikan Airstrip, in the said Region Seven.
Relations between Guyana and Venezuela have been tense over the past few months because the Bolivarian Republic continues to lay claim to over 2/3 of Guyana’s territory, even though an 1899 Arbitration panel awarded the disputed Essequibo region to Guyana.
In February 1966, just before Guyana was granted Independence, in Geneva, Switzerland, the governments of British Guiana, the United Kingdom and Venezuela signed an agreement to resolve its contentions, but Venezuela has sporadically raised the controversy it created.
The controversy was reignited by Venezuela when the Guyana Government granted access to the US-based oil exploration company ExxonMobil, allowing it to drill for oil in the Stabroek block offshore Essequibo.
The Venezuelan Government was peeved at this move and made direct contact with the oil company, urging it to discontinue its drilling activities in the area. Saying it had no part in the territorial issue, the oil company went ahead with its drilling.
President Maduro later issued a decree on May 26, 2015, which purported to ratify maritime sovereignty over waters within 200 miles including the entire Atlantic Ocean off the Essequibo Coast as well as part of Suriname’s maritime territory and an area which is under dispute with Colombia.
Guyana has been seeking UN help in resolving the issue and has sought a juridical settlement if the UN process fails.