BELMOPAN, Belize, Monday March 21, 2016 – A confrontation between military officers from Belize and Guatemala at the disputed Sarstoon River has triggered concern from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) which also called for Belize’s territorial rights to be respected.
Tensions between the two countries are running high, following the March 12 incident involving the Belize Defence Force (BDF) and the Guatemalan Armed Forces (GAF) at the river on the southern Belize border.
According to a Belize government statement, the GAF approached the Belize forces and “behaved in an extremely hostile and threatening manner, insisting that our troops should not be at the Sarstoon”. It said the Belize forces stood their ground and after some time the GAF withdrew. In the intervening period, the government said, the BDF Commander had spoken to an opposite member in Guatemala and Prime Minister Dean Barrow had sent a message to President Jimmy Morales.
The Belize government sent a note of protest to Guatemala which has disputed Belmopan’s version of the incident.
The Guatemalan authorities claimed that the BDF had entered Guatemalan internal waters on the Sarstoon River without following the usual security protocol.
But CARICOM said yesterday that although the incident ended peacefully, following contact at the highest level between military and political leaders on both sides, it was gravely concerned about the confrontation.
“The Caribbean Community restates the importance it places on respect for international law and the sanctity of treaties and deeply regrets any actions of the GAF which violate the sovereignty of Belize and attempt to change the status quo, prior to the submission of the Guatemalan claim to Belizean territory to the International Court of Justice in accordance with the Special Agreement ratified by both parties,” the CARICOM statement said, noting that the mid-channel of the Sarstoon River was the settled and agreed border between the Republic of Guatemala and the United Kingdom, long before Belize’s independence in 1981.
“The Community reiterates its strong and unequivocal support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Belize and calls on the government of Guatemala to agree to confidence building measures, in conjunction with the Organization of American States, to ensure peace and stability along the southern border of Belize with the Republic of Guatemala.”