THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Guyana on Tuesday asked the World Court to issue an emergency order for Venezuela to stop a Dec. 3 referendum over its rights to a potentially oil-rich territory that has been the subject of a long-running border dispute between the two neighbours.
In April the International Court of Justice, as the World Court is formally known, ruled that it had jurisdiction over the issue. A final ruling on the main case could be years away.
According to Guyana representative Carl Greenidge, the referendum over the 160,000 square km (61,776 square mile)Esequiba region of mostly impenetrable jungle, poses an existential threat to Guyana's territorial integrity.
"It seeks to create a new Venezuelan state that purports to annex and incorporate into its own territory Guyana's entire Esequiba region, more than two thirds of its national territory and to grant Venezuelan citizenship to the population," Greenidge said. Lawyers for Guyana said Venezuela's plans were a textbook example of annexation.
The Venezuela referendum has been described by critics as a way for the ruling party to test its support ahead of planned elections next year and to encourage the international courts to give it full rights over the disputed border territory.
Venezuela's claim over Esequiba was reactivated in recent years after the discovery of oil and gas near the maritime border. Just last month Guyana announced another significant discovery in offshore areas.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)