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The river Sarstoon was witness to yet another confrontation between Guatemalan armed forces and members of the Belize Defense Force over the weekend. The incident, according to the Government of Belize, played out on Saturday evening in the area of Belize's Forward Operating Base and the armed Guatemalan Forces although they never actually attempted to set foot on Belizean territory, acted in a hostile and threating manner towards the BDF.

Reports coming from Government indicate that during the confrontation Guatemala’s armed forces insisted that our troops should not be at the Sarstoon. The Belize Forces though, stood their ground and after some time the Guatemalan armed forces withdrew.

As a form of intervention BDF Commander General Jones spoke to an opposite member in Guatemala and Prime Minister Dean Barrow sent a message to President Jimmy Morales.

Today in an interview with the media after a special meeting held with the National Security Council in Belmopan, Prime Minister Dean Barrow told the media that General Jones’ intervention is what appeased the situation.

Screen_Shot_2016-03-14_at_8.21.23_PMRt. Honorable Dean Barrow – Prime Minister of Belize

“Its important to make the point that the incident that did occur was diffused, we now know for sure in consequence of our General Jones having gotten in touched with his opposite number in Guatemala whom I know in fact is the highest ranking military person in Guatemala the Head of the arm forces, as we said in the Press Release, I had try to get a message to President Morales which I am told he received I did not speak to him directly, this message was conveyed through certain channels but while I got back a message saying that matter will be taking care of I think that by the time I got that message the Guatemalans had already, in fact, withdrawn and that happened in consequence of General Jones having spoken to General Perez I believe is the name of the Head of the GAF, General Jones had met with General Perez a couple of days before the incident on Thursday I believe it was in San Antonio, Texas where they both attending a Regional Security Leaders Conference convened by the Americans and his interaction with his opposite number had produced a mutual understanding that there is a need for some sort of modus prevendi some manner of proceeding to be worked out between the two militaries, between the two countries in respect to the Sarstoon, I don’t think I or the General, I don’t think I am at liberty to go beyond that but it was on the bases of the meeting and that contact that our General was able to call General Perez after he had been alerted to what was happening by our troops in the area and as a direct result of that phone call the incident was diffused.”

In a strongly worded protest note sent to Guatemala, the Belize Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave account of what took place on Saturday. Guatemala has responded to the protest note and are disputing Belize’s version of the incident.

Rt. Honorable Dean Barrow – Prime Minister of Belize

“We told you in the Press Release that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would be preparing a strongly word note of protest and dispatching that and that has been done, the Guatemalans has responded to that note of protest and dispute our version of the fact that is why I commence by telling you that we stand by our version of the incident, couple of significant things of the Guatemalans response; they deny that they behave in an extremely hostile and threatening manner, they said they confronted a Belizean vessel which the way it is framed it is not factual and they complained about the failure on our side to follow the security protocol usually followed in the Sarstoon River(Status quo), the say at no time there was no provocation by the Guatemalan authorities towards the crew of the Belizean vessel what was asked is that they follow the protocol usually followed in the Sarstoon River(Status quo).”

Government admits that despite the ultimately peaceful end to the standoff it is clear that tension with Guatemala over the Sarstoon and Belize's insistence on its sovereignty rights in accordance with the 1859 Treaty Demarcation of the river, is at an all-time high. And contributing to the escalating tension and aggressiveness on behalf of the Guatemalan armed forces is the visit to the Sarstoon by Belizeans, says P.M.

Rt. Honorable Dean Barrow – Prime Minister of Belize

“In the same way as there are protocol to deal with other sensitive border areas and the modalities for handling potential flashbacks, it is our view that there must be similar protocols to govern the Sarstoon otherwise, ultimately, inevitably there is going to be a problem, they are not going to relinquish their position and we sure as hell are not going to relinquish ours, we have said to Belizeans, it is a matter for the government and the military to maintain our assertion of sovereignty there is not doubt in my mind that the stepping up in Guatemalan rhetoric, the ratcheting up of their positon is directly related to all that has taken place with respect to the Sarstoon and the visits and the expeditions and the excursions well-meaning in the part of civilians design to assist the military which needs no assistance in terms of Belize’s’ expedition.”

Screen_Shot_2016-03-14_at_8.21.30_PMInsight that situation is escalating…..talks are to take place in Washington tomorrow between Belize and Guatemala under the auspices of the Organization of American States. The main topic of discussion will be the recent incident at the Sarstoon. If the Guatemalan representatives refuse to touch the subject….Prime Minister Dean Barrow will have a one on one talk with Guatemalan President Jimmy Moralez.

Rt. Honorable Dean Barrow – Prime Minister of Belize

“You know that tomorrow morning there is a meeting in Washington the last formal position that we knew about with respect to the Guatemalan delegation was that they are not going to talk about the Sarstoon they are going to talk about funding for the adjacency zone and other matters, it is our position that we must talk about the Sarstoon, I am hoping that things having gone as far as they did on Saturday will oblige the realization of the part of the Guatemalan delegation that indeed the Sarstoon must be discuss, it would be unrealistic to think that, even if that happens, any protocol can be agreed during the Washington meeting, all we want is a commitment for there to be a specific discussion going forward about the Sarstoon and only the Sarstoon so that we can come to some sort of a resolution if tomorrow the Guatemalan delegation still insists that they do not talk about the Sarstoon then I will seek to get in touch with their President formally and directly that would the next step, of course this meeting is also about asking both our military people and our diplomats to be quite clear and to reduce to writing the way forward for Belize in the event of whatever contingencies.”

Government has informed key members of the international community, including the US and the UK, of the extremely critical situation.

In Washington Government will be represented by Minister of Foreign Affairs Honorable Wilfred Elrington while the Opposition will be represented by Assad Shoman.

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