Guyana and Suriname Discuss Exploration Project

The leaders of Guyana and Suriname are discussing a joint venture for oil and gas exploration and are avoiding their dispute over an offshore oil field that led both to deploy troops along their borders.

"We did not try to chew on the whole problem, to try to swallow it, because we might choke on it," Suriname's President Ronald Venetiaan told a news conference Tuesday night, the second day of a three-day visit by Guyana's President Bharat Jagdeo. "I think it would be better it we took a bite out of the problem at a time." These are first official talks between the two leaders since tensions flared in June 2000 when a Surinamese naval vessel ordered a Canadian oil rig working on a Guyanese contract out of the disputed offshore area north of the Corentyne River that borders the South American countries.

In a joint statement, Jagdeo and Venetiaan said they discussed a possible agreement for joint offshore exploration of oil and gas. Further negotiations by government officials are scheduled for May.

Fourteen of Suriname's 20 opposition legislators boycotted a speech Jagdeo made to their parliament on Tuesday, saying Suriname should demand that Guyana withdraw its troops from the disputed area before starting negotiations. Jagdeo refused to comment afterward, saying "I refuse to be drawn into a discussion on the dispute at this moment."

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the entire coastal area off the two countries could contain as much as 15 billion barrels of oil.