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Venezuela moves ahead with plan to annex Guyana's oil-rich Essequibo region

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has given oil companies operating in the disputed Guyana territory of Esseguibo three months to comply with Venezuela's law annexing the territory. Guyana called it an imminent threat. File Photo by Rayner Pena/EPA-EFE
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has given oil companies operating in the disputed Guyana territory of Esseguibo three months to comply with Venezuela's law annexing the territory. Guyana called it an imminent threat. File Photo by Rayner Pena/EPA-EFE

Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Venezuela will annex oil-rich Essequibo, a disputed territory in Guyana, in an effort to enforce results of a referendum Sunday.

President Nicolás Maduro displayed a new map with the annexed territory during a Tuesday TV appearance and instructed the state oil company to draft a map of exploration and exploitation of resources in the region and issue extraction licenses.

He also proposed a series of laws before the National Assembly to officially make the region part of Venezuela.

Earlier in the day he sent the military to Puerto Barima, near the area on Venezuela's Atlantic border.

"We want the peaceful rescue of the Guayana Essequibo," said Maduro. "Our Guayana Essequibo has been de facto occupied by the British Empire and its heirs and they have destroyed the area."

Guyana President of Guyana Irfaan Ali called Venezuela's announced Tuesday annexation of an oil-rich region of Guyana a direct threat to Guyana's territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence. Photo by Michael Reynolds/UPI
Guyana President of Guyana Irfaan Ali called Venezuela's announced Tuesday annexation of an oil-rich region of Guyana a direct threat to Guyana's territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence. Photo by Michael Reynolds/UPI

"We are giving three months to the companies that are exploiting resources there without Venezuelan permission to comply with the law."

Guyana responded by placing its defense forces on full alert. Brazil, which shares a border with both countries also reinforced military deployment to the border.

In a Facebook video, Guyana President Irfaan Ali called the annexation unlawful.

"This is a direct threat to Guyana's territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence and a violation of fundamental principles of international law," Ali said.

The Venezuelan National Election Council said more than 95% of voters approved the annexation in a referendum held Sunday but turnout was low, with only 2 million people, or 10% of eligible voters, casting ballots.

Guyana has governed the area since an 1899 arbitration gave it the region while Guyana was still a British colony.

The International Court of Justice has warned Venezuela not to act on taking control of Essequibo, but Venezuela claims the court lacks authority to rule on the matter.

Ali asserts that Venezuela's action is in "blatant disregard" of an order from the International Court of Justice and said Guyana sees the annexation as an imminent threat.

He said Guyana will intensify preparations to safeguard the territory and will raise the issue at the U.N. Security Council.