GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) — Guyana President David Granger said Tuesday that Venezuela has deployed troops to a contested border region in what he called a "dangerous" escalation of a long-running dispute between the South American nations.
The government of President Nicolas Maduro made "extraordinary military deployments" along what Guyana considers its western border, Granger told reporters.
He called the development a "hostile and aggressive" step in a border dispute that dates to the 19th century but has grown more heated over the past year following a major offshore oil discovery in waters claimed by both nations.
"We feel that Venezuela is treading a dangerous course at this point in time rather than seeking a peaceful resolution of the matter," Granger said. "Venezuela seems to be pursuing a very offensive and aggressive course."
The Maduro government did not respond to requests for comment on any deployment. But the defense minister, Gen. Vladimir Padrino, said during a public event that troops were conducting exercises in the eastern portion of the country, which could account for the forces noted by Granger.
An official on state TV said exercises also are planned for the western portion of the country. Venezuela has recently sent troops to its border with Colombia as part of what Maduro says is a crackdown on smuggling and other crimes.
Venezuela has long claimed a jungle area known as the Essequibo that comprises about 40 percent of Guyana's territory.
Venezuela extended its maritime claims, issuing a map that would have rendered Guyana landlocked, after a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil Corp. announced it made a significant oil discovery about 120 miles (193 kilometers) off Guyana, which awarded the drilling concession.
Since then, the two sides have engaged in repeated rhetorical exchanges and scaled back commerce, with Guyana phasing out oil purchases from its larger neighbor and Venezuela switching to other countries for rice supplies.
Guyana has asked the U.N. to mediate the border dispute and Granger is expected to raise the issue at the upcoming General Assembly meeting.