The lost chopper had been sent to inspect the area amid rising tensions with Caracas.
A Guyanese military helicopter with five senior officers and two soldiers onboard vanished in stormy weather on Wednesday near the country’s contested border with Venezuela.
The suspected crash happened as border tensions between Guyana and Venezuela are on the rise. Caracas has laid claim to an extensive territory which Guyana refers to as Essequibo, disputed by the two countries since the 19th century.
In 1899, the US stepped in to arbitrate the dispute, and, invoking the Monroe Doctrine, assigned the territory to the British Empire, which included Guyana. Venezuela never accepted the decision, and the dispute was referred to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2018.
After a referendum on Sunday about incorporating the territory, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro unveiled a new map with the area, dubbed Guyana Essequiba, now shown as part of the country.
Rescue operations had to be called off due to adverse weather conditions, according to Guyana Defense Forces (GDF) Chief of Staff Brigadier Oman Khan. The helicopter sent out an emergency signal shortly after refueling. The signal may have been triggered by the crew and may suggest a crash landing, he added.
Guyanese President Irfaan Ali has slammed Maduro for displaying “blatant disregard” for the ICJ, which forbade Caracas from disturbing the status quo in the region.
The dispute is further exacerbated by recently discovered oil reserves in the waters off the coast of the Atlantic, which both countries claim.
Maduro warned that foreign companies exploiting resources in the region without permission from Caracas have three months to “comply with the law.”
Caracas has since mobilized troops and sent them to the Guyanese border in preparation for claiming the 160,000 square-km territory.