Venezuela and Guyana to meet on December 14 amid territorial dispute

SAO PAULO (Reuters) -Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro will meet with Guyana President Mohamed Irfaan Ali on Thursday amid a territorial dispute between the two countries, according to a letter from the prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

The announcement of the bilateral meeting came after Maduro spoke with Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, who also serves as president pro tempore of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday.

Tensions have been mounting in recent weeks between Venezuela and Guyana due to a long-running border dispute over Esequibo, an area in Guyana where massive discoveries of offshore oil and gas have been made.

Venezuela’s government said the meeting “is in order to preserve our aspiration to maintain Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone of peace.”

The Office of the President of Guyana confirmed Ali had agreed to the meeting, but added, “Guyana’s land boundary is not up for discussion.”

Last weekend, voters in Venezuela rejected the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) jurisdiction over the area, backing the creation of a new state.

Earlier on Saturday, Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva spoke to Maduro and called for dialogue, saying it was important to avoid unilateral measures that could escalate the situation.

Lula, who has been invited to the Thursday meeting as an observer, reiterated that Brazil is ready to support and follow dialogue initiatives, reinforcing a joint declaration by South American countries that was released earlier this week.

The United States and Brazil are consulting each other on the Venezuela-Guyana border dispute, the press office of the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia said.

“We reaffirm the United States’ unwavering support for Guyana’s sovereignty,” it said in a statement that said both governments want a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera, Peter Siquiera, Luana Maria Benedito; Writing by Peter Frontini and Laura Gottesdiener; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis)