Posted: February 29, 2016. 9:25 p.m. CST.
By Dalila Ical: “We will lodge a protest and a strong protest to the Guatemalans saying that we do not countenance that kind of activity where they are coming into our waters,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilfred Elrington of the encounter between the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV) and the Guatemalan armed forces on Saturday.
In a session with the media today, Elrington said he understands that there were a number of Guatemalan vessels and all except one remained in Guatemalan waters. One small boat is believed to have entered Belizean waters, he said, and it is something that his office and the Belize Defense Force (BDF) have monitored very closely and that even the Prime Minister is constantly in contact with the officials at his office.
“We are constantly in contact with them as from last week because it is our responsibility to ensure that Belizeans are kept safe and sound and we are resolved to do that despite the fact that there are those who don’t seem to appreciate the dangers that they are putting themselves in as well as the rest of the society because if we were to come into conflict with the Guatemalans, and that will erupt into violence the likelihood is that innocent people get killed…we don’t want that to happen…It would set a dangerous precedent. It is going to adversely affect our tourism. It is going to affect our investment in our country; we don’t want that to happen,” he stressed.
Elrington also expressed satisfaction that nothing more unfavourable occurred on Saturday morning. He again stressed, though, that Belizeans should not visit the area as a matter of prudence because “there is the potential for people to get hurt. This is an area that is disputed and you have the potential for harm to come about.”
The Minister’s stand on the matter has brought him serious scrutiny and he has been widely accused of being partial in the matter. Belize has not become submissive, he clarified, but the dialogue must continue and there are “people who are skilled, who are trained and who are paid to deal with that. We don’t want anybody to go and interfere with that situation because by doing so you are putting your soldiers in harm’s way.”
As for reports on illegal incursions along the border and the exploitation of Belize’s natural resources, Elrington says these have been reduced significantly under the current administration and the allegations being made are unfounded.
When asked, given the perceived lack of control by Belizean authorities in the Sarstoon Area whether Guatemala is in total control there, Elrington said “no…BDF go there every week.” In fact, the Minister added, he suspects “that our fisher folk and other people use that water very freely.” He further said that the relationship with the people from southern Belize and those of Guatemala in the area is “fluid” with children from Guatemala coming to school in Belize and workers coming and going as well. “That is how we should live…co-exist, live in peace, understanding that a claim exists and we are going to resolve it.”
But he proceeded to assert that the problems faced now, particularly in the Sarstoon River area started when “some patriotic Belizeans who decided and wanted to go and identify some of the markers, so when that started to happen then we started to get (that) kind of response for the Guatemalans but it is not my knowledge that prior to that there was any problem there.”
“We always knew there was a problem and that is why are trying to go to the ICJ” he clarified and in his interview, the Minister read a release issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Guatemala where it stated that Guatemala also remains interested in taking the dispute to the ICJ.
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