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
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
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
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
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.