NEW YORK (AP) — Guyana President David Granger said Saturday that he's willing to meet with Venezuela's leader on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, but reiterated his belief that the World Court is the only answer to their border dispute.
Granger said in an interview with The Associated Press that the U.N. court in the Netherlands should mediate the countries' territorial squabble. Any attempt by him and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to negotiate the matter on their own would be "useless," he said.
"We cannot reopen a matter that was settled by international arbitration, and we've never committed to reopening the matter," Granger said, referring to an 1899 decision that drew the current border between the two countries.
Venezuela has disputed that line for more than a half century and says the current altercation should be resolved by a U.N. mediator.
Venezuela has long claimed about 40 percent of Guyana's territory that is rich in gold, bauxite, diamonds and other natural resources. It extended its maritime claims recently after a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil Corp. announced it made a significant oil discovery off Guyana's coast.
Granger said he plans to talk with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during the current gathering of world leaders in New York and will meet with Maduro if Ban proposes it. But he wasn't optimistic that much would be accomplished.
"The controversy has persisted for 50 years, Venezuela has not introduced any new evidence, and I'm not interested in a photo opportunity," Granger said. "I'm interested in (the) Venezuelan removal of its claim I have not seen any indication from Mr. Maduro, have not received any invitation from Mr. Maduro, that he's formed new evidence to validate his claim to our territory."
There was no immediate response from the Venezuelan government to Granger's comments.
Tensions between the two nations have increased in the last week.
Guyana held military exercises around the country Saturday, but Granger said the move was not aimed at inflaming the situation.
"It's impossible for Guyana to attack Venezuela," he said. "Venezuela has armed forces of over 112,000, compared with Guyana's 3,000."
More than 1,000 soldiers marched through the capital of Guyana and elsewhere in the South American country Saturday.
The chief of staff for Guyana's military, Brig. Gen Mark Phillips, said some marches took place in the western Essequibo region that Venezuela claims. He said the 6-mile (10-kilometer) marches began at dawn.
"We are ready to ensure that we have peace throughout Guyana," he told troops at the end of the main parade in the capital. "We are defining aggression on our frontier because we want to have peace in our country."
Guyana showed off its military days after it accused Venezuela of deploying troops to the border. Venezuelan officials have said only that troops were conducting exercises in the country's east.
Granger did not mention Venezuela or directly refer to the dispute during a speech Friday at the U.N. General Assembly. In his speech, he said friendship and understanding should prevail in relations between states.
"Guyana calls on all nations to eschew recourse to the threat, or use, of force in the resolution of controversies," he said.
Associated Press writer Bert Wilkinson in Georgetown, Guyana, contributed to this report.