Venezuela has demanded that Guyana stop offshore oil exploration being carried out by US-based Exxon Mobil near the disputed Essequibo river.

It follows Exxon Mobil announcing on 20 May that it had made a significant oil discovery on the Stabroek Block, located 120 miles offshore Guyana.

Following the company’s announcement, Venezuela alleged that it was unfair if Guyana is exploiting oil in a disputed territory.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said that the exploitation is ‘a dangerous political provocation’.

Reuters quoted Rodriguez saying in televised comments: "Until there is a resolution of the issue of territorial reclamation… there can be no unilateral use of these waters."

Caracas agreed to surrender the mineral-rich region west of the Essequibo river after an international tribunal ruled in 1899 that it is part of Guyana.

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"Until there is a resolution of the issue of territorial reclamation… there can be no unilateral use of these waters."

Venezuela has claimed the region as its own since the 19th Century, saying that the ruling was unfair and insists the territory remains in dispute.

Newly elected Guyana President David Granger said that Venezuela’s decree is a ‘flagrant violation of international law’.

Guyana Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it will continue to access and develop its natural resources in accordance with its constitution and laws.

Relations between Venezuela and the Exxon have been tense since 2007, when the country’s then-president Hugo Chavez nationalised the US oil and gas company’s assets.

Image: In 1899, an international tribunal ruled that the mineral-rich region west of the Essequibo is part of Guyana. Photo: courtesy of Nick Taylor.