Guyana and Suriname are exploring the possibility of jointly patrolling the Corentyne River to crack down on cross-border piracy and smuggling and although army Chief of Staff Gary Best envisions this happening within the next six months, he says Guyana could be ready at any short notice.
Rear Admiral Best yesterday was updating the media on consultations held with the Surinamese military last weekend in the neighbouring country. The meeting was an engagement involving the military, police and customs officials of both countries to discuss issues related to the security
sector and intelligence cooperation, including where they looked at trafficking in narcotics, human trafficking, weapons smuggling, illegal migration, piracy, smuggling in goods and services.
Briefing the media on the military aspect, Best told reporters during a press conference at the Ministry of Home Affairs yesterday that he engaged the Surinamese national army in discussions not only relating to trans-border crime but how the military can work with the law enforcement agencies, particularly “in terms of joint operations with the police force of the two nations and joint operations in the Corentyne River.”
While noting that the details of those operations are still to be worked out, he said that both countries will have their resources available. He explained that the Surinamese navy operates in the Corentyne River while Guyana will have a coast guard more than likely operating with law enforcement agencies within the Corentyne River for joint operations.
According to Best, there seems to be a clear determination on the part of the Surinamese army to work with the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) in the context of supporting law enforcement. “There seems to be a renewed determination to work together. The political philosophy behind this is really maximising our similarities and minimising our differences .The particular mischief we want to kill is piracy and smuggling and, in that context, we believe that both defences have a role to play,” he noted.
“The main effort and plan had to do with conducting joint operations in support of law enforcement, in support of [combating] piracy and smuggling within the Corentyne River and within the coastlines of our two countries and training exchanges,” he added.
Asked what is now required to activate this joint cooperation in the Corentyne River and who would have the right of arrest as far as those operations are concerned, Best said that it is now up to the technical people on both sides to meet and work out the details. However, he opined that an initiative could begin within six months. “We can see the joint patrol started but this is speaking from the Guyana side. We can be ready at any short notice so I would only offer my own opinion, in six months we can be out there to have the patrol being done but that is only one side that is Guyana’s side,” he said.
The issue of jurisdiction, he added, “obviously has to be dealt with at the highest levels. I think that if you are closer to the Guyana side, you probably would be arrested by Guyanese officials. If you are close to the Surinamese side you are probably be arrested and taken to Suriname but that is at the simple level.”
He said that what they have attempted to do is work “within the river and avoid the issue of any conflict over the rights to the river. It is really to do with law enforcement. So, the Attorney General has to deal with the right to arrest and jurisdiction and those other legal imports that are necessary for law enforcement activities.”
Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee, who led the delegation to Suriname that also comprised acting police commissioner Leroy Brumell and head of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) Khurshid Sattaur, told reporters that the fundamental issue is the “favourable disposition on the part of the Surinamese” to engage Guyana on the question of joint patrols in the Corentyne River.
Rohee, who called the engagement a successful one, said that throughout the discussions both sides put forth similar positions. “I left Suriname convinced that the Surinamese are prepared to work on a mutually beneficial way with Guyana on the question of joint patrols in the Corentyne River,” he said.
He noted that patrols are in the interest of both countries. “Trans border, cross border, transnational crimes is something we have to fight together. We cannot fight these things separately and given the history and the conflict relation between Suriname and Guyana it would seem to me that we do not have a choice but to work together,” the minister stressed. Control of the river has been a source of dispute between the two countries.
Brumell said that drug trafficking, human trafficking and other issues that affect both countries as it relates to trans-border crimes, were discussed with Suriname’s police commissioner and crime chief. He noted that both sides have agreed that joint cooperation and intelligence sharing is important and as such they have established points of contact. “We know for a fact that joint operations in the Corentyne River would be very important as a means of suppressing crime in the area. Piracy is one of the areas that we have found that Guyanese pirates are going into Suriname water committing offences in Surinamese waters and then coming to Guyana,” he said.
He said that they also discussed visits by both sides, “bringing teams to Guyana to enjoy the warmth of each other. I think I left there with a very good taste in my mouth and as long as I am around I will ensure that we continue to communicate with our neighbours.”
Sattaur, meanwhile, said that goods in excess of US$10M are imported from Suriname and in excess of US$5M in taxes are collected on an annual basis. That, he said, has been the outcome of endeavours since 2011. “In recent times, because of lapses on the part of both parties… there have been some slippages. We have observed those slippages becoming almost like a threat, going back to the days when we were not collecting as much revenues as we have been recently collecting,” he said.
“We observe that big boats are actually being loaded in Suriname but they (the goods) are transferred to small boats in mid-stream and some of the goods end up back in Suriname as smuggled goods. Some of them end up in Guyana causing some concerns,” he said adding that law enforcement is being put under quite a lot of pressure to deal with this type of scourge.
He added that initiatives have been put in place to counter smuggling. ‘Our counterparts were very receptive to some of the suggestions we have of joint endeavours,” he said, while adding that at present a team is heading to Suriname to meet counterparts.
According to Sattaur, the main challenge is the smuggling of goods between the two countries.
“Based on the reception we have received from our counterparts, we have good news to report that we are going to deal with it in the most appropriate manner, leading to getting back to where we were in revenue collection between the two countries…,” he said.
Rohee also said that it was unanimously agreed that the joint engagement shall be called the Jagdeo/ Bouterse initiative because it started under these two presidents and it will now continue under the Ramotar/ Bouterse presidencies.