Guyana will stay alert after Venezuela vote on territorial dispute -VP

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro attends an event at the National Electoral Council, in Caracas

CARACAS (Reuters) - Guyana will remain vigilant after a Venezuelan referendum rejected an international court's jurisdiction over a territorial dispute between the neighboring countries, Vice-President Bharrat Jagdeo said on Monday.

Bilateral tensions over the potentially oil-rich Esequibo region rose in recent weeks ahead of the five-question referendum, which Guyana unsuccessfully asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to bar.

The U.S. State Department said on Monday it supports a peaceful resolution of the dispute and that the issue could not be solved by a referendum.

Venezuelans on Sunday backed the rejection of ICJ jurisdiction over the dispute and the creation of a new state in Esequibo. Analysts have said the vote was an attempt by President Nicolas Maduro to gauge his government's support ahead of a 2024 presidential election.

The ICJ has prohibited Venezuela from taking any action which would change the status quo in the region, though a court ruling on the overall dispute could be years away.

Maduro has assured Caribbean countries that he will not invade the region, Jagdeo said, but Guyana will not let its guard down.

"The leadership in Guyana cannot just take assurances from the Maduro government that they will not invade the country," Jagdeo told local media in an interview from Dubai, where he is attending the Conference of the Parties (COP28) climate summit. "We have to be prepared for any eventuality."

"We have to be very vigilant in this upcoming period because the Venezuelan leadership has shown itself to be very unpredictable," Jagdeo said, urging Guyanese to remain calm and saying the country has ramped up defense coordination with allies.

Venezuela has reactivated its claim over the 160,000 square km (61,776 square mile) territory around the Esequibo river in recent years, after the discovery of offshore oil and gas. The maritime border between the two countries is also in dispute.

Venezuela's electoral authority said on Sunday that all questions passed with more than 95% approval and at least 10.5 million votes were cast for 'yes'.

On Monday the authority's head said the 10.5 million figure applied to voters, not to votes.

Jagdeo called the vote "rigged" and questioned turn-out figures.

Reuters witnesses saw several poorly attended polling places on Sunday.

"Popular mandate is sacred," Maduro said at an event on Monday. "That is the path with which, as head of state, I'll take all my actions and all our actions from here forward."

"A new era in the fight for our Guayana Esequiba has begun," he added, using the proposed name for the new Venezuelan state. "Now we will recover Venezuela's historical rights."

(Reporting by Mayela Armas and Deisy Buitrago in Caracas and Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota; Editing by Richard Chang)