UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern Thursday over an escalation of tensions between Guyana and Venezuela over the disputed Essequibo border region.
“The Secretary-General is following with concern the recent escalation of tension between Guyana and Venezuela over the border controversy between the two countries. He trusts that both parties will demonstrate good faith and avoid any action that would aggravate or extend the controversy,” Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
The statement comes after Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister Yvan Gil on Wednesday accused the Guyanese government of granting permission to the US to establish a military base in Essequibo, a move that was labeled by Caracas as a “threat to the stability of Latin America and the Caribbean.”
Guyana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Hugh Todd dismissed Gil’s remarks and accused Venezuela of spreading misinformation.
“It seems to be Venezuela’s usual position which is to deceive and create division in the region, and I think they are failing,” Todd said at a press conference.
Guyana and Venezuela have been locked in a years-long dispute over their borders, which intensified after ExxonMobil’s first oil discovery in the region’s territorial waters eight years ago.
While Guyana says its border with Venezuela was fixed by an arbitration tribunal in 1899, Venezuela argues that the Essequibo River forms a natural frontier that was recognized at the time of its independence from Spain.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in April ruled it had jurisdiction over the issue, which could determine which country has rights to the territory. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro rejects the court’s jurisdiction.
The UN statement said “the Secretary-General does not express a view on matters that are the subject of ongoing judicial proceedings” and recalled that the ICJ is the body in charge of determining a solution.
Venezuela has announced that it will hold a referendum on Dec. 3 on whether or not to annex the area, but Guyana has said it will not recognize the results.