OECS raps Caracas' claim to island
by BERT WILKINSON
MEADES BAY Caribbean countries agreed yesterday to formally condemn Venezuela's claim over waters around a tiny, uninhabited island that some believe sits near oil and natural gas deposits, officials said.
Wrapping up a two-day regional summit, leaders of the nine-member Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States(OECS) said they had requested a meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to discuss his country's claim to waters around Aves Island, which which is located about 565 kilometres (350 miles) north of Venezuela.
Venezuela has defended its ownership of the island since 1865, even though the dry, treeless speck of land is much closer to several Eastern Caribbean islands like Dominica and Antigua.
"We are going to issue a strong statement of condemnation" of Venezuela, Antiguan Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer said during the summit in Anguilla. He said the statement would be released late yesterday.
Some Eastern Caribbean leaders argued Aves was not a true island but rather a sandbar, and that therefore Dominica had more of a claim to waters off the island. Dominica lies just 225 kilometres(140 miles) east of Aves.
Len Ishmael, the director general of the OECS, said leaders asked for the meeting with Chavez "as a matter of great urgency" but didn't say whether they hadreceived a response.
On Monday, the leaders said they might appeal to the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention for mediation in the decades-old dispute, voicing concern over Venezuela's stance in recently reaffirming its ownership of the island by holding weddings and baptisms at a military outpost there.
The waters off Aves teem with tuna, grouper and red snapper, while oil and natural gas are thought to lie under the sea floor.
Venezuela recognises a 12-mile zone from its coasts as territorial waters. Some Caribbean officials say they are concerned that the South American country's
200-nautical-mile "exclusive economic zone" could be considered to encompass several Caribbean nations, including Montserrat and Grenada. (AP)