Caribbean countries may ask the United Nations to help settle a decades-old dispute with Venezuela over who owns a tiny, uninhabited island that some believe sits near oil and natural gas deposits, officials said.
Venezuela has long claimed ownership of Isla de Aves, or Bird Island, which is located about 610 kilometers (380 miles) north of Venezuela's mainland but much closer to eastern Caribbean islands such as Dominica and Antigua.
Antiguan Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer said Sunday that the 15-member Caribbean Community was concerned about recent Venezuelan efforts to assert ownership of the island, including sending troops to live there and holding weddings and baptisms at a new military outpost.
Spencer said the bloc, known as Caricom, planned to announce a plan of action on the dispute soon that could include appealing to the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention for mediation. "Venezuela clearly has a strategy for Aves Island and we have to do something about it," Baldwin told The Associated Press at the start of a two-day regional summit in Anguilla. "They are not letting up at all."
Some Eastern Caribbean leaders have argued that Dominica has more of a claim to the dry, treeless island than Venezuela. Dominica lies just 225 kilometers (140 miles) east of Aves.
The dispute goes beyond the land. The waters off Aves teem with tuna, grouper and red snapper, while oil and natural gas are thought to lie under the sea floor.
Charles Savarin, Dominica's foreign minister, said if Venezuela's Aves' claim was acknowledged, the South American country's 200-nautical-mile "exclusive economic zone" would encompass several Caricom members nations, including Montserrat and Grenada.
"We may need some kind of international arbitration to solve this problem," Savarin said. "We are not ruling out anything, but if it becomes necessary, we will have it resolved internationally."
The island has in the past been claimed and occupied by various countries, Britain, Spain, the U.S., the Netherlands and now Venezuela, reports the AP. I.L.