The government of South American Guyana is resisting Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro’s planned takeover of its oil-rich Essequibo region.

It will not tolerate the “annexation, seizure or occupation of any part of its territory,” said a statement published by the Foreign Ministry. Venezuela’s attempt to “annex more than two-thirds of Guyana’s sovereign territory and make it part of Venezuela” is a “flagrant violation of the most fundamental principles of international law” enshrined in the United Nations Charter, it said further.

“Defend Venezuela on the international stage”

Maduro passed a law on Wednesday that would make the Essequibo region, which belongs to neighboring Guyana, Venezuela’s 24th state. It also provides for “the provision and formation of a State and National High Commission for the Defense of Guiana Esequiba,” as the federal state would be called. At the beginning of December, Maduro held a controversial referendum in which, according to official information, 96 percent of the participants were in favor of unification.

Maduro said on Wednesday that his government would use the law to “defend Venezuela on the international stage.” This raises fears that his army could invade the region and trigger a war.

The current borders were established in 1899 in an arbitration award from a tribunal in Paris, initiated by the USA and Great Britain – according to which the region belongs to Guyana. Venezuela, on the other hand, relies on an agreement with the United Kingdom from 1966 – a few months before the then colony of British Guiana became independent. This provided for a negotiated solution to the dispute.