Posted: Monday, February 29, 2016. 4:41 pm CST.
Posted: Monday, February 29th, 2016. 4:38 p.m. CST
By Dalila Ical: The Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV) led by Will Mahia, headed to the Gracias a Dios border marker down the Sarstoon River around 7:30 Saturday morning but their trip was cut short as five Guatemalan vessels met and obstructed their passage at the mouth of the river.
The Guatemalans blocked their way and the group of about 20 persons would only reach the vicinity of the Sarstoon area. When they looked through their binoculars, they noticed the Guatemalan soldiers were armed, BTV President Will Maheia said. The group then decided to take another route to the north of the military base, he added.
Maheia says the Guatemalan military was already in Belizean waters and when they moved north, they ventured deeper into Belizean territory and blocked their passage again. Maheia says that after careful consideration, they decided they “would not be confrontational (and) backed down on this occasion.”
It would “almost be suicidal if (they) decided to pursue it,” Maheia said, adding that despite having aborted their trip, they “will not give up but will re-strategize”. The group will meet to decide their next step and Maheia says that they will go back.
He reiterated his hope that the government would step in to place pressure on Guatemala and called on Belizeans to stand up for the country. “Right now the entire tourism industry in the south of Barranco is lost. People don’t want to go there and Guatemalans are fishing there. The Bladen Reserve is being invaded by Guatemalans too,” he charged.
Maheia firmly believes that unless the government does something, the issue may never be resolved. But GOB has stated its position on the matter many times over – it will not support the BTV and their quest. Just before the scheduled BTV trip, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press release warning the BTV not to go due to the potential risk of conflicts with the Guatemalan armed forces patrolling the area and stressed that it would not provide any protection to the group.
Unfazed, Maheia said the border excursions are critical in asserting Belize’s ownership of the area. After deciding the risks were too great, the group returned to dock by 11:00 Saturday morning.
Meanwhile, the Guatemalan press have reported that their armed forces successfully intercepted and prevented a group of Belizeans from “invading an island located near the Sarstoon River” in Livingston, Izabal.
“The group’s objective was to invade Guatemalan territory,” reports the Prensa Libre. According to the report, the Guatemalan armed forces sought to dialogue with the group but when these (Belizeans) saw the soldiers, they returned to Belizean waters.
The report adds that the Commander, Boris Castillo said they were doing routine checks in the area to ensure that no one entered their waters illegally.
The Commander also stressed that in 2015 they intercepted a group of persons in the area that were captured and later handed to Belizean authorities. Commander Castillo further said the Belizeans are claiming the island and as such there is a need to conduct frequent patrols in the area to avoid any illegal “invasion.”
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