Suriname-French Guiana row over borderline, violent incidents

BERT WILKINSON | 3/14/2019, 10:27 a.m.
The Dutch-speaking Caribbean Community nation of Suriname has suspended joint patrols with French Guiana in the wake of a recurring ...

The Dutch-speaking Caribbean Community nation of Suriname has suspended joint patrols with French Guiana in the wake of a recurring quarrel over marine border lines, after French police used military equipment to destroy gold mining equipment that Surinamese authorities claim were being used in local waters.

Deeming the action hostile and unnecessary, the Surinamese cabinet ordered a suspension of a system of joint patrols that were used to keep good order in waters between the two nations. Suriname has accused the Guianese of using outdated maps and GPS coordinates to intrude into waters controlled by Suriname and to harass its fishermen and gold miners among other groups.

French Guianese authorities have twice in the past year blasted gold mining dredges out of the waters between the two nations, contending that the miners were operating illegally in French waters.

The foreign ministry has in recent months sent two diplomatic notes to authorities in Cayenne but it appears that Suriname is in for a long and tough fight ahead as the French say they are determined to maintain the status quo as they know it and to prevent miners from using mercury to recover gold and poison and pollute waters used by people on both sides of the river.

The issue was raised in the Surinamese parliament in the past week. The parties issued a joint statement that appears to leave more questions than answers about a solution anytime soon as the two sides differ on where the line of demarcation sits.

The French say the line of demarcation that was agreed during the colonial era with the Dutch in 1915 is not in dispute. The quarrel relates to who owns three islands in the waters so the French are unprepared to have any discussions about the border but only for the islands.

Surinamese Foreign Minister Yldiz Pollack Beighle told parliament that “we have a problem for generations to solve” and a joint statement the two issued said that “it has been agreed that both parties will be cautious in the areas currently under discussion.”

The military-like action against the gold miners along with the complete destruction of expensive mining equipment has led to a spike in tension levels on the border but given the belligerent attitude of the French, it is clear that Suriname faces an uphill task in resolving the dispute. Suriname also has demarcation line problems with Guyana to the west.

The Surinamese ministers say that “we have to make sure that both societies are made aware that we have every intention to clarify the border line,” noting that authorities last week released money for a technical study of the row.

Still French Ambassador Antoine Joly has not ruled out future action against miners and others working in areas the French claim as its own, noting that the French “will only avoid interventions in areas under discussion,” meaning the islands in the water not the 1915 demarcation line.The French continue to “apply French law on French banks to combat illegal gold mining and in particular the use of mercury, to poison the population living on both sides of the river,” Joly said.

It is unclear if the Surinamese have raised the issue with neighboring Caribbean Community member nations—at least to win solidarity—as the French have given every indication that there will be no negotiation regarding the border line.