(Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro further escalated tensions with neighboring Guyana over a disputed territory, ordering the country’s oil and mineral state companies to start granting licenses for deposits in the area known as the Essequibo.
Maduro also ordered foreign oil companies working in the disputed area to withdraw, asserting his right to do so after Venezuelan voters backed their nation’s control of the territory in a referendum Sunday. Guyana has insisted that the Essequibo is within its borders, and the matter is currently in front of the International Court of Justice, though Maduro has said he doesn’t recognize its jurisdiction.
Maduro hasn’t yet dispatched any military forces to enforce his demands. On Tuesday, he said he’d create a military unit for the disputed territory but that it would be based in a neighboring Venezuelan state.
“I propose a special law to prohibit all companies that work under Guyana concessions from any transaction,” Maduro said. “They have three months to withdraw” once his proposal is approved, he said.
The tension with Guyana is partly a Maduro effort to whip up support ahead of a presidential election next year, analysts including Nicholas Watson of Teneo Holdings have said. By that measure, last weekend’s referendum fell short. Polling places appeared empty, though the government officially said almost half the population had participated.
Read More: Maduro Fails to Rally Venezuelan Nationalism in Vote Over Border
While the countries have disputed the sparsely populated territory since the 19th century, the argument has grown more heated in recent years following massive oil discoveries off Guyana’s coast by companies including Exxon Mobil Corp.
In September, Guyana’s government said it would award new oil blocks by the end of the year, infuriating Maduro, whose government has said some of those blocks are in waters that have not been delimited or belong to Venezuela.
(Updates with military status in third paragraph)
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