October 9, 1999
Venezuela discounts military move on Guyana border

                  CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) -- Venezuela told its neighbour Guyana
                  on Saturday that recent military moves on their disputed border were routine
                  anti-drug operations and not an attempt to raid the mineral rich Essequibo

                  Venezuela claims a Florida-sized portion of Guyana, an English-speaking
                  country on the northeastern shoulder of South America, in a border dispute
                  dating back to the 19th century.

                  Responding to Guyanese concern over the military movements of its much
                  larger neighbour on Oct. 5, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry issued a
                  statement saying: "The Venezuelan National Guard was carrying out routine
                  operations against illicit drug trafficking last Tuesday, without intentions to
                  make an incursion into the Essequibo region."

                  "In no way should (the mobilisation) be interpreted as an unfriendly act by
                  the Government of Venezuela," it added.

                  The 61,000 square mile (158,000 sq km) Essequibo region is an area of
                  tropical jungle believed to be rich in minerals such as gold and diamonds.

                  The dispute over rights to the territory dates back to the last century when
                  Britain, then the colonial power over British Guiana, and Venezuela argued
                  for decades over the boundary.

                  The two sides ultimately accepted the decision of an international Tribunal of
                  Arbitration in 1899 but the issue resurfaced half a century later following the
                  death of Venezuela's lawyer at the talks. He said in a letter opened
                  posthumously that the settlement was void because it was the result of a
                  secret deal between Britain and Russia.

                  The dispute has simmered since then and boiled over again earlier this week
                  when Venezuela commemorated the 100th anniversary of the contested
                  agreement, calling it "null" and charging Venezuela had been "illegally
                  stripped" of Essequibo as a result of the 1899 decision.

                  Guyana brushed aside the renewed claim, saying the Essequibo was an
                  integral part of the territory of Guyana.

                     Copyright 1999 Reuters.