OAS accuses Venezuela of 'illegal' seizure of Guyanese boats

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OAS accuses Venezuela of 'illegal' seizure of Guyanese boats

Thursday, January 28, 2021

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WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — The Organization of American States accused Venezuela Wednesday of illegally detaining two Guyanese boats, emphasising that the countries' dispute must be settled at the international level.

The office of OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro condemned the interception last Thursday of the boats, and specifically called out Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, whose mandate the OAS considers illegitimate following disputed elections.

The OAS "condemns the illegal detention by the Venezuelan dictatorship of two Guyanese registered fishing vessels and their crew who were located within the Cooperative Republic of Guyana's Exclusive Economic Zone," the office said.

The statement demanded that "the Guyanese citizens are released promptly and safely to Guyanese authorities, as well as the two detained vessels".

The standoff is the latest episode in a century-old territorial dispute between the two South American countries that has heated up since US oil giant ExxonMobil discovered crude oil in the region in 2015.

"It is regrettable... that the government of the Bolivarian republic of Venezuela has chosen to resort to the unilateral use of military force," Guyanese ambassador Riyad Insanally said Wednesday.

The United States said it "supports a peaceful resolution" to the dispute and condemned what it called "intimidation" by Maduro through seizure of vessels and detention of the crew.

"We echo the OAS Secretariat's call for their release without delay," tweeted Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for the State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

The OAS doubled down on previous support for resolving such disputes in accordance with international law, saying they "cannot be settled by unilateral actions".

"Any attempt to derail this international legal process, such as the decree issued by the Maduro regime, is contrary to international law and standards, and has no legal bearing or significance."

In December, Maduro decreed "a new marine territory" that, according to Guyana, extends into its marine and land territory west of the Essequibo River.

Guyana condemned the decree as a violation of its sovereignty and of the fundamental rules of international law, and maintains valid borders were set in 1899 — while Venezuela says a 1966 treaty nullified that earlier agreement.

Guyana has asked the International Court of Justice to rule on the matter, but Venezuela has said the ICJ has no jurisdiction and will not participate.

And on Wednesday, the Venezuelan ambassador to the OAS Gustavo Tarre — named by opposition leader Juan Guaido — defended his country's right to "protection of its territory," but still criticised Maduro's handling of the matter.

Insanally hit back, saying Tarre was just repeating the same stance as the "bellicose Maduro regime".

"This attitude is more than just ironic, it is absolutely misplaced and downright offensive," he said.

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