Border Disputes: Guyana and Suriname

Guyana’s Foreign Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett has expressed her concerns about the possible use of force and invasion of Guyana by Suriname. Rodrigues-Birkett said the onus was on the Surinamese government to clarify its position on force. She explained that silence would be taken as an indication that the use of force is still a component of Suriname’s policy towards Guyana, adding that “The use of force would indeed be a breach of international law that will require Guyana to take action to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Suriname has a historical claim to 6,000 square miles of Guyana. In 1969, the Dutch-speaking nation, then a part of the Netherlands, sent troops into the disputed territory but was repelled. There is also a maritime boundary dispute on the line. The two countries came close to conflict in 2000, when Suriname sent two gunboats to the region and expelled Canadian company CGX Energy, halting its oil exploration there under a Guyanese license. Guyana brought a complaint against Suriname under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, but the two member states of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) seemed to have moved closer toward solving their maritime border dispute after a United Nations tribunal ruling. In September 2007, the Law of the Sea tribunal gave both Suriname and Guyana access to an offshore basin believed rich in oil and gas deposits. The governments of the two countries professed themselves satisfied with the ruling but opposition groups in Paramaribo held protests against local authorities for “mishandling” the maritime dispute.

Rodrigues-Birkett’s concern predates that intervention; an invasion plan was hatched in 2000 during the administration of then Suriname President, Jules Wijdenbosch. The Guyanese Foreign Minister told the National Assembly that the current government of President Ronald Venetiaan must publicly eschew the use of force to settle the territorial dispute. Guyana is also facing a claim by Venezuela for five-eighths of Guyanese territory.

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Cartoon (by Khalil Bendib, copyright Studio Bendib, LLC) from

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