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BDF intervenes in Sarstoon showdown over BTV trip

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Posted: Thursday, July 25, 2019. 9:16 am CST.

By Aaron Humes:According to leader of the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV), Wil Maheia, a timely intervention by the Belize Defence Force (BDF) on Tuesday saved an escalation in confrontation with the Guatemalan Armed Forces relentlessly patrolling the Sarstoon River.

Maheia explains in a video post that he was escorting members of the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management up the Sarstoon to Black Creek. The purpose of the trip was to investigate reports of Guatemalans stealing timber.

Leaving Punta Gorda Town around 7:30 Tuesday morning, Maheia said, they checked in at the Sarstoon Forward Operating Base about an hour later in their journey, and according to him they approved of the trip.

But only ten minutes later, GAF patrol boats steamed in to stop the expedition, refusing to listen to explanation and insisting that the BTV/SATIIM team would not pass in “Guatemalan” waters.

But when the GAF took it a step further by trying, according to Maheia, to sink the BTV/SATIIM boat and block them from going up river, the BDF intervened and the trip apparently proceeded.

This is the first major confrontation in the area since Belize agreed by referendum to send the unfounded Guatemalan claim to the International Court of Justice, a position Maheia opposed as a member of the Belize PEACE Movement. The BDF has previously made a point of staying out of confrontation with its Guatemalan counterparts based in Livingston.

After a bipartisan amendment to the 1992 Maritime Areas Act to take territorial waters in the South including the Sarstoon off the negotiating table, Prime Minister Dean Barrow said he was inclined to have Belize’s hired international attorneys put forward claims for preliminary relief that would stop Guatemala’s interference with traffic on the river.

Guatemala insists that the entire Sarstoon River and Sarstoon Island belongs to it; Belize claims the northern portion above the boundary line as well as the uninhabitable island.

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