Venezuelan soldiers open gunfire on GGMC officers travelling in Guyana’s Cuyuni river
Three mining officers of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) came under fire from the National Bolivarian Armed Forces while travelling in a boat in the Cuyuni River, Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni).
This was confirmed by Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Chief of Staff, Brigadier Mark Phillips. According to a report in today’s Guyana Times, Brigadier Phillips said much information is not yet available, however the incident was reported to the police at Eteringbang. Based on the police report troops were dispatched to conduct investigations.
Police sources in Eteringbang told Guyana Times that shots were fired. However, none of the mining officers, nor the captain of the boat were injured in the shooting incident.
The source said the officers were carrying out inspections and monitoring of gold mining camps in the Cuyuni when the Venezuelan soldiers opened fire on them.
The officers, the source said, were forced to seek cover by lying flat in the boat as the captain sought to get the attention of the Venezuelan troops with whom he is said to be familiar with.
After recognising the captain, the Venezuelan troops ceased fire and asked the GGCM official to identify themselves before they were allowed to proceed.
After the frightful incident occurred the GGMC officers then proceeded to file a police report at the Eteringbang outpost.
Top government officials including President David Granger have been briefed and reportedly were up to last evening in contact with Venezuelan authorities.
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.
Brigadier Phillips had indicated at the time that several Venezuelan military men dressed in uniform, who were armed, disembarked the aircraft.
Reports indicated that the soldiers began to engage in conversations with two villagers and shortly after, they boarded the chopper and took off.
Brigadier Phillips told this newspaper that the Venezuelan soldiers were inquiring from the villagers if they had landed in San Juan, Brazil. However, the villagers informed them that they landed in Kaikan, Guyana. Upon receiving this information, the soldiers boarded the helicopter and left.
Relations between Guyana and Venezuela have been tense over the past few months after the Bolivarian Republic continues to lay claim 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 Government of Guyana 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 attempt to carry out drilling activities in the area. Saying it had no part in the territorial issue, the oil company went ahead with its drilling activity.
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 the UN help in resolving the issue and has sought a juridical settlement if the UN process fails.