As the leaders of Guyana and Venezuela prepare to meet this week to address an escalating dispute over a region rich in oil and minerals, Guyana's president says he is coming with "goodwill" but insists that his country be respected and the case be heard at the International Court of Justice.
President Irfaan Ali spoke to reporters late on Sunday while his security detail wore shirts reading "ESSEQUIBO BELONGS TO GUYANA".
The dispute over Essequibo, which represents two-thirds of Guyana and borders Venezuela, worsened after Venezuela held a referendum earlier this month on whether to claim sovereignty over the region located near massive oil deposits.
Venezuela maintains that Essequibo was within its boundaries during the Spanish colonial period, and it rejects the border drawn by international arbitrators in 1899 when Guyana was under British rule.
Guyana's president is scheduled to meet on Thursday with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro behind closed doors on the eastern Caribbean island of St Vincent.
Invited to the talks are leaders including Brazilian President Inacio Lula da Silva.
"We are very confident that good sense will prevail," Ali said.
"We want peace but we must be respected."
He stressed that Guyana will not negotiate with Venezuela, insisting that the case be heard by the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands as planned.
"The world is behind us," he said.
When asked if the United States has committed any military aid, Ali said he signed an advanced defence agreement with the US to ensure that "major training programs and exercises" will continue.
"We also are talking to many other partners," he said, without providing details.
"We don't want any conflict. We don't want any war."
In a video posted on Sunday on social media, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Yvan Gil said he met with his counterpart in Guyana and noted, "We are always in favour of dialogue between both countries to solve this controversy".
Gil said he also has met with the presidents of CELAC - the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States - and Caricom, a Caribbean trade bloc.
Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, said on Saturday the leaderships of CELAC and Caricom believe there is "the urgent need to de-escalate the conflict and institute an appropriate dialogue".
Gonsalves noted that Ali agreed to discuss the controversy with Maduro despite Guyana's parliament unanimously instructing him not to do it.
"Let us all resolve to make this historic gathering a successful one," Gonsalves said.
"So much is at stake for our Caribbean and Latin American civilisation."
Australian Associated Press