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Jul 25, 2019

Belize Protests GAF Aggressive Behaviour at the Sarstoon

An incident on the Sarstoon has prompted a reaction from the Government. An excursion led by Will Maheia transporting members of SATIIM, an N.G.O., was stopped in its tracks and prevented from traversing the river. The incident was videoed and the Guatemalan Armed Forces are seen and heard claiming ownership of the island and river.  It is not the first time that the GAF has acted in this provocative manner.  The Ministry of National Security today said it is protesting the incident and is disappointing especially now that both countries are heading to the International Court of Justice. News Five’s Hipolito Novelo Reports.

 

Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

This is a member of the Guatemalan Armed Forces telling Belizean Wil Maheia and six others that the Sarstoon Island and River belong to Guatemala. He tells Maheia that they need to produce documentation to traverse the river.

 

Voice of: Wil Maheia, Leader, B.T.V.

“Why would we have papers for our own country?”

 

Guatemalan Armed Forces

“No this belongs to Guatemala.”

 

Voice of: Wil Maheia

“This belongs to Guatemala? Well as far as we know, this belongs to Belize. But you won’t let us go up this river.”

 

Guatemalan Armed Forces

“Yes because it belongs to Guatemala. You are not allowed to. So I ask for you to return. Bye-bye. Have a nice day. ”

 

The worrying incident unfolded on July twenty-third when Maheia attempted to escort members of the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) to Black Creek to investigate the illegal logging of timber by Guatemalans. The group of Belizeans approached the Forward Operating Base and requested an escort to proceed into the Sarstoon River.  A few minutes up the Sarstoon, two Guatemalan gunboats filled with armed Guatemalan soldiers set chase after the Belizeans.

 

Wil Maheia

Wil Maheia

“When we got to the B.D.F. base they told that we can go ahead and proceed. About ten minutes after we were on the river, we heard this sound coming. When we looked back it was the Guatemalan Armed Forces. They came and they stopped us. You’ll see in three instances where they stopped us. We explained to them that we were in Belize. Secondly, you’ll see where they tried their best to intimidate us, trying to sink our boat as a matter of fact.”

 

The group of seven Belizeans was being escorted by the Belize Coast Guard in a B.D.F. metal shark type patrol vessel. According to the Ministry of National Security, the B.D.F. patrol commander told the GAF they would not turn around. The group continued, however, some four kilometers short of its destination, the B.D.F. patrol vessel began experiencing mechanical issues and had to return to base.

 

Wil Maheia

“I just want to say that the B.D.F. today showed themselves really well against the Guatemalans who insisted on blocking us from going up the river, The B.D.F. held their own and when the Guatemalans tried to block, the B.D.F. stepped up and was really professional about it and stopping the Guatemalans from blocking us.”

 

Ministry of Foreign Affairs is now lodging a strong protest to the Guatemalan Government. C.E.O. in the Ministry of National Security, Felix Enriquez, says the Belizean government describes this latest incident as “very disappointing and demonstrates bad faith at a time when both countries have made significant progress in moving towards a permanent solution to the long-standing unfounded territorial claim.”

 

Voice of: Felix Enriquez, C.E.O., Ministry of National Security.

 “We are disappointed in what happened. We really thought that since both countries had moved forward as to how we go about settling the dispute. They would have been a bit mature as to way they were handled our civilians traveling down there at the Sarstoon but that did not happen. So we have asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to express in a strong way that we are disappointed in what happened, with a protest in a strong way.”

 

With this latest aggression by the GAF, it is safe to say that there will be a repeat in the future.

 

Voice of: Felix Enriquez

“We have a standard operating procedure in how we treat what happens there. That will not change. For a long time there were no incidents and we were thankful, but if it is that it comes to that then and of course we will use our channels to discuss with them and their new leaders at the military level to try to get to a calm, the calm that we like. The disappointment is not just what they did more that there was a mission that SATIIM wanted to achieve and they did not achieved. Essentially, while we post our guys out there to get things like that done. So perhaps we will be revisiting the way we manage that kind of thing. Perhaps if SATIIM had reported to us what was happening we would have planned it differently because that kind of mission that they wanted to do an investigation on something specific that they deemed to be illegal is the kind of thing that we want to take of so disappointed from that perspective as well.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Hipolito Novelo.


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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