SAN JUAN – Any cross-border incursion by foreign soldiers could result in arrests, the head of the Guyana Defense Force said on Friday amid a military mobilization in response to rising tensions with Venezuela over the contested Essequibo region.
“If there is an incursion, Guyanese soldiers could arrest opposing military personnel,” Brig. Gen. Mark Phillips told a news conference.
He led the GDF in maneuvers ahead of a march on Saturday meant to demonstrate to the Guyanese public that the military is operationally ready.
Troops at Base Camp Stephenson shouted “War” when they were asked “Ready for what?,” Phillips recounted to reporters, though adding that he immediately reminded the soldiers that their task was to defend the borders.
He deflected questions about possible military assistance from other countries as matters best dealt with through diplomacy by the government.
Essequibo is a resource-rich area of 167,839 sq. kilometers (64,800 sq. miles) administered by Guyana but claimed by Caracas.
An arbitration panel awarded the territory to Guyana, then still a British colony, in 1899, but more than 60 years later, the U.S. government provided Venezuela with information indicating that the panel’s decision was the result of favoritism.
Based on that information, Venezuela secured a UN resolution calling for negotiations over the status of Essequibo.
The long-simmering territorial dispute took on new urgency on May 20, when a subsidiary of U.S.-based ExxonMobil announced the discovery of significant oil reserves in the waters off Essequibo.
A week later, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro issued an executive order asserting sovereignty over the waters.