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Venezuela, which claims Guayana Esequiba as part of its territory, established a military base on the island in 1966, which Guyana claims as intrusion and aggression on a territory whose sovereignty was never under discussion.
Alleged intrusion occupation
In February 1966, the governments of Venezuela, the United Kingdom and Guyana signed the Geneva Agreement aimed at resolving the controversy over the Venezuelan claim that the arbitral award of 1899, which settled the border between Venezuela and Guyana, was null and void.
The Agreement provided that "no new claim or enlargement of an existing claim to territorial sovereignty in these territories (of Venezuela and British Guiana) shall be asserted while this Agreement is in force, nor shall any claim whatsoever be asserted otherwise than in the Mixed Commission while that Commission is in being".
Despite this declaration, a few months later a well-armed group of Venezuelan soldiers, along with civilians, encroached upon and occupied territory by Guyana de facto side of the border. This encroachment occurred, unknowing to Guyana Government, on the half of the island of Ankoko that Guyana claims as its own at the confluence of the boundary rivers, Cuyuni and Wenamu (Wenamo). It took the form of the introduction of military and civilian personnel and the establishment of an airstrip and the erection of other installations and structures, including a post office, school and military and police outposts.
The incursion on the territory on Ankoko Island claimed by Guyana as its own by Venezuela was reported to the Guyanese authorities early in October 1966 by a diamond prospector who was in that forested and almost uninhabited area at the time. As a result, a Guyanese team of senior officials, including police officers, visited the vicinity on 12 October 1966 and verified that Venezuelan personnel were allegedly occupying the Guyana claimed side of the island where they had already constructed an airstrip.
Subsequently, on the morning of the 14 October 1966, Forbes Burnham, as Prime Minister and Minister of External Affairs of Guyana, dispatched a strong protest to the Foreign Minister of Venezuela, Ignacio Iribarren Borges, and demanded the withdrawal of Venezuelan troops and the removal of installations they had set up on Guyana's territory.
Shortly after, Burnham called in the Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, to brief him of the situation. Later that morning, in a radio broadcast Burnham informed Guyanese of the developments. Urging them to remain calm, he added that every step was being taken "to retain our territorial sovereignty by peaceful means."
Protest in Guyana
Burnham's announcement immediately galvanised all Guyanese to condemn the Venezuelan action. A few hours after the broadcast, members of the Progressive Youth Organization (PYO) and the Young Socialist Movement (YSM), the youth arms of the PPP and the PNC respectively, mounted a large protest outside the Venezuelan Consulate General in Middle Street, Georgetown. In the course of this noisy demonstration, some of the protestors invaded the compound and pulled down the Venezuelan flag from the mast and then proceeded to burn it on the street.
An immediate protest to the Guyanese government was made by the Consul General, Señor Aranguren to whom the Guyana External Affairs Ministry later in the evening sent a letter expressing regrets over the flag-burning incident. On the following morning, the 15 October, the Minister of State and Attorney General, Shridath Ramphal, sent a note of apology over the desecration of the Venezuelan flag to the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry and, shortly after, Burnham met with the Consul General to personally express similar sentiments.
The opposition People's Progressive Party (PPP), on the same day, condemned the Venezuelan incursion on the Guyanese side of Ankoko Island. Some days later, the United Force at a public meeting in Georgetown also criticised the Venezuelan action.
The Venezuelan Foreign Minister replied on the 18 October to the Guyana protest. In a note to the Minister of External Affairs, (Burnham), Iribarren Borges stated that "the Venezuelan Government does not accept the said protest, as the island of Ankoko is Venezuelan territory in its entirety and the Republic of Venezuela has always been in possession of it." He added that if Guyana "should have any reclamation to formulate", it should do so through the Mixed Commission created by the Geneva Agreement. As a matter of fact the said islands were always part of the Venezuelan territory and were not part of the 1899 Award that settled the boundaries in favor to the British Empire East of the Cuyuni River. The said island being a flotant island belong therefore to Venezuelan which sovereignty over the said islands was never under discussion. The said Award was agreed by both parties to be null and void under the 1966 Geneva Agreement.
Analysis of Guyana's protest over Ankoko
Guyana regarded the Venezuelan reply as totally unsatisfactory, and there followed an exchange of diplomatic notes between the two countries throughout the rest of the year. Guyana suggested that in preference to the matter being raised at the United Nations, representatives of both Governments should carry out a joint examination of the boundary map, prepared in 1905 by a joint team of British and Venezuelan surveyors, for the purpose of determining the position of Ankoko in relation to the existing boundary. This was rejected by Venezuela who insisted, again, that if Guyana wished to discuss the matter it must be done through the Mixed Commission.
In a booklet entitled The Ankoko Affair, (published by the Ministry of External Affairs of Guyana in 1967), the Guyana Government carefully analysed its protest over the incursion on its part of Ankoko Island. It stated that in protesting against the Venezuelan incursion on the territory given to Guyana by the Arbitral Award, it was upholding the Geneva Agreement while at the same time complaining of its seemingly unilateral cancellation by Venezuela. The object of the Geneva Agreement, the Ministry said, was clearly to keep matters in the pre-existing state until it should be otherwise decided under the procedure laid down by the Agreement. A party which was asserting rights larger than those assigned to it under the map was, therefore, asserting a claim, and if it did so otherwise than through the Mixed Commission, it was in breach of the Geneva Agreement.
The Guyana protest, therefore, indicated that Venezuela, acting outside the Mixed Commission, was asserting, by military means, certain rights larger than those accorded to it and was, thus, in breach of the Geneva Agreement. The Ministry stated that the Venezuelan suggestion that Guyana's protest amounted to an assertion of claim - which could only be done through the Mixed Commission - was, therefore, fallacious and misleading.
The Guyana protest also sounded a warning of the expansionist nature of Venezuela's ambitions and its unwillingness to be deterred either by the general principles of international law or by specific terms of bilateral or multilateral international agreements that it had solemnly concluded.
According to the 1899 Award that Guyana claims settled the dispute even though was nullified and recognized as void by both parties as part of the 1966 Geneva Agreement. The boundaries given in favor of the British Empire were East of the Cuyuni River. The said islands are flotant territory and there is no written record on such Award of the islands.
According to the Guyanese claims the installation of a military base in the Ankoko Islands are perceived as an aggressive and intrusion to its territory which was wrongfully annexed by the British using forged maps used to claimed theirs the territory west of the Esequibo River which was always part of the Spanish possessions. The east Cuyuni River line is contested and both parties recognised the said Award which never included the said island which are flotant Islands was null and void. Thus Guyana newly independent government recognised the Award was null and at the same time claims the matter was settled under such Award.
The dividing of Ankoko Island
The Arbitral Award of 1899, which settled the boundary between Guyana and Venezuela, stated clearly that the boundary should run "along the midstream of the Acaribisi to the Cuyuni, and thence along the northern bank of the River Cuyuni westward to its junction with the Wenamu to its westernmost source. . . ." At the junction referred is the island of Ankoko with an area of roughly six square miles.
The said Arbitral Award is recognized as null and void by both parties since the signage of the 1966 Geneva Accord.
In connecting the boundary from the north bank of the Cuyuni to the midstream of the Wenamu, the Mixed Venezuelan-British Boundary Commissioners drew a line passing through the island and dividing it from north to south in roughly equal parts - the eastern part of about three square miles falling on the British Guiana (Guyana) side of the boundary and the western part falling on the Venezuelan side. A boundary map showing these details was signed on the 7 January 1905 by the Boundary Commissioners, Harry Innis Perkins and Charles Wilgress Anderson of Great Britain and Abraham Tirado and Elias Zoro of Venezuela.
Ever since the completion of the work of the Boundary Commission, the eastern part of Ankoko was recognised as juridically and administratively part of Guyana and totally within its boundaries. The Venezuelan Government had never before challenged the validity or accuracy of the map produced by the Boundary Commissioners and had at no time asserted sovereignty over the entire island of Ankoko. The Geneva Agreement and the discussions which led up to it concerned the sole issue whether the Arbitral Award of 1899 was null and void; they involved no challenge to the accuracy with which the boundary line as shown on the 1905 map reflected the terms of the Award.
Announcement in National Assembly
On the 25 October, the National Assembly (Parliament) of Guyana met to hear a statement from Prime Minister Burnham on the situation. The statement set out the background to the drawing of the boundary line through the island of Ankoko and gave details of the border controversy up to that time. A motion by Dr. Jagan to debate the issue was refused by the Speaker of the Assembly who said that the time was not opportune. As a form of protest over the Speaker's action and the Government's refusal to agree to a debate, the PPP representatives staged a walk-out from that sitting of the Assembly.
Statement by Venezuelan Ambassador
Matters remained at a stalemate for the rest of the year with Venezuela determined not to withdraw from the islands. By the beginning of 1967, Venezuela upgraded its Consulate General to that of an Embassy and appointed Walter Brandt as its first Ambassador to Guyana. On the 26 April 1967, the Guyanese evening newspaper, Evening Post, featured on its front page an article based on an interview with the Ambassador. According to the paper, Brandt insisted that the entire island of Ankoko was Venezuelan territory, none of which would be yielded to Guyana. The island was one of Venezuela's border outposts, he stated. He explained that when the Guyanese government objected to Venezuela's occupying the eastern section of the island, the impression was gained that the Venezuelans had just invaded that area. He claimed that Venezuelans had long been living all over the island which became known as "Anakoko" because a Venezuelan woman named Ana used to sell coconuts on the island.
Brandt told the newspaper that the island was not being used as a military base, and that the airstrip built on the island was to allow for an air service to be operated between the island and populated centres to enable the residents to obtain food and medicine.
The Ambassador also reported that relations between Guyanese on the Cuyuni River and the Venezuelans on the island were very friendly. He added that Guyanese and Venezuelan soldiers mixed freely, visited each other and played dominoes and other games, and exchanged food and gifts. No Guyanese soldiers, he said, were stationed on Ankoko and only the Venezuelan flag was flying on the island.
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