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Jan 23, 2002

Book presents Belize case in Guatemalan claim

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With hot button issues like the impeachment of a Supreme Court Justice and the imposition of burdensome new telephone rates dominating the nightly news, the perennial headline grabber–Guatemala’s claim to Belize–has virtually disappeared from journalistic radar screens. Today it reappeared like F-15′s over Kandahar. It seems that with the end of the latest chapter in the dispute finally in sight, the government is taking no chances and has published a detailed legal study advancing Belize’s case. Belmopan hired a team of legal eagles, including world renown lawyer and ad hoc judge of the International Court of Justice, Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, to put together an argument for Belize, just in case the claim eventually lands in court. Today, Foreign Affairs Minister Assad Shoman officially released the document, entitled Legal Opinion on Guatemala’s Territorial Claim to Belize. In the book, the lawyers state…”We have been asked to consider whether Guatemala can validly question the sovereignty of Belize over the whole or any part of its territory. We can state our conclusion immediately and without qualification. The answer is “No.” We have given careful consideration to the various presentations by Guatemala of its position. We believe that they are in a number of crucial respects so wrong as to make the Guatemalan case unsustainable.” As hired guns for Belize, the findings are hardly surprising, but Shoman says the report is objective.

Assad Shoman, Minister of Foreign Affairs

“We felt that, just in case this thing ever came to the point where it had to be submitted to some sort of legal determination, then we should be prepared and let the Belizean people know what the legal position was as far as the territorial claim to Belize was concerned. So we asked these eminent lawyers to give us, not a biased paper to support or claim or our position, but rather an objective view strictly looking at the legal position at international law, what would the tribunal be likely to describe if this matter were put to it. To put it another way, what possible legal validity does Guatemalan’s claim to our territory have. They have that and they have presented their findings in this paper, which we have published in this form.”

Hard copies of the document will be made available to schools and libraries countrywide and it will also be available for perusal at the government’s website…

Shoman also addressed the issue of “the Caramagna report” which was submitted to the O.A.S. facilitators as part of an independent investigation into the deaths of three Guatemalan men at the hands of Belizean security forces. Based on that report, the facilitators recommended, among other things, that Belize hold a formal inquest into the incident. The Foreign Minister says the government will hold such an inquiry as well as fulfil its promise to make ex-gratia payments to the family members of the deceased.

Assad Shoman

“We have agreed to hold an inquest into the situation. The Chief Magistrate has been appointed to hold that inquest, and he had in fact given a date for the hearing, which however had to be postponed because we have asked for certain information which can only be given to us by the Guatemalan government, in particular, the death certificates, the autopsy reports, the presentation of witnesses etc., so as soon as we have that and we have made that clear to the Guatemalan authorities, then we will proceed with that hearing.

With respect to the compensation, similar situation is occurring in that. In order to make a fair…ex gratia payment is the correct word to use, not compensation, which was recommended by the facilitators, we need to know certain things. In particular, we need to know who the dependants of the persons are, their ages, their link to the deceased persons and so on. Likewise have requested that information from the Guatemalan authorities and as soon as we do we will make a reasonable and just offer as an ex gratia payment to those dependants.”

Janelle Chanona

“You have a time frame for that?”

Assad Shoman

“If we get it today, we’ll probably make an offer tomorrow.”

The Belize Government has maintained that despite its pledge to make payments to the family members involved in this incident, it does not translate into an admission of guilt on any level.

But even as the Foreign Minister hints that the facilitators in the dispute might be submitting their recommendations by mid-March of this year, an O.A.S. team is in Belize to investigate the position of a border marker. Why such a request would come so late in the game is not clear, but apparently they want to be sure that the marker is exactly where the 1859 treaty says it should be. This morning, Shoman read part of the letter sent to him by the facilitators.

Assad Shoman

“We wish to determine whether the southernmost of these markers, located at a point that is known as Gracias a Dios, is properly place according to the terms of the treaty. We would not imply by this inquiry that it is not, but we want to know where according to the terms of the treaty, it should have been placed.

The team that is carrying out that request made to the Secretary General of the O.A.S., is headed by Mr. Peeler who you know from his previous visits here in connection with the mapping of the adjacency line and it includes two surveyors from the United States National Image and Mapping Agency. They arrived in the country yesterday. We had a meeting with them at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last evening, which was attended by representatives of the Guatemalan government, and we made the necessary logistical arrangements for them to go down and they have left already. They are on site now as far we know, by the Sarstoon, the Gracias a Dios marker and they expect to continue their work by Saturday or by Friday, and they’ll be leaving the country on Saturday.”

It is not known how soon the survey team will present it’s findings.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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