The Ministry of Foreign Affairs called a press briefing late Tuesday evening in the Capital City to update on recent developments in the strained relations with Guatemala and Belize as it relates to the Sarstoon. According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Wilfred Elrington, a meeting was agreed to work out a modus for the Sarstoon so as to avoid further confrontation. That meeting was held last Friday and according to the Minister, a draft of what GOB wanted to see was written up at the San Ignacio Hotel before the meeting. To reach a Modus Privendi, an 11 paragraph document was developed which was presented to the Guatemalans on Friday at the meeting. The Miinister says that while no agreement has been made with the Guatemalans as yet, there is at least a proposal.
Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs: The channels of the Sarstoon River shall continue to be freely navigable by vessels and boats of each of the two countries without any interference or trailing by the other. The second…whenever any vessels of any one of the parties approaches the base of the other party or any other vessel, it shall reduce its speed as a token of respect and friendship and to avoid injury or damage to persons or property. Three…the law enforcement and armed forces of both parties shall refrain from any threatening, abusive or unfriendly actions, words or behavior of any kind with respect to each other in and around the said river. Four…law enforcement and armed forces of both parties shall respect the right of the citizens of each other to make lawful and environmentally sustainable use of the river for fishing and recreation. Five…the parties shall cooperate to prevent or limit hazards and reduce and eliminate adverse consequences arising from floods, droughts and incidents involving substances hazardous to water. Six…the parties shall cooperate on the basis of sovereign equality, mutual benefit and good fate in order to promote and achieve the goals of this agreement. Seven…the parties shall cooperate in preventing and countering any illegal activities including drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms smuggling, contraband and other illegal activities of a transnational nature. And to this end, the parties may develop plans and conduct joint law enforcement and military patrols or operations including search and rescue which may include the participation of third countries. Eight…the parties shall cooperate to avoid incidents on the Sarstoon River conducive to tensions between them. in the event of such an incident, the parties should immediately communicate with one another to contain it, resolve it and prevent its recurrence. Nine….as a matter of courtesy and to promote good working relations, commanders assigned to the Sarstoon River may visit each other by mutual arrangement to discuss matters of mutual interests. Ten…the parties shall, on a regular basis, exchange information. This includes an undertaking for any one party to inform the other party, beforehand, of any non-routine activity in or near the Sarstoon River. By mutual arrangement, the parties shall install practical means of radio and other communications to facilitate these exchanges. Eleven…if a dispute arises between the parties as to the interpretation or implementation of this protocol, they shall seek as soon as reasonably practicable to resolve it by negotiation and should they fail to satisfactorily resolve any such dispute, either of the parties may request the Secretary General of the O.A.S. to use his good offices to propose a solution to this dispute and the other party hereby agrees to accept such offices and to comply in good fate with the recommendations of the Secretary General.”
Belize wants to ensure that the Organization of American States remains a part of the process, however, the OAS is apparently running out of money and needs some 2.5 million USD to keep the OAS office operating in the adjacency zone. Doctor Assad Shoman says they have given the Guatemalans a week to respond to the request made by the Belize side.
Assad Shoman, Opposition Representative: We asked them to reply within a week, because we want to keep the pressure up; we want to make sure that they know that this is a matter of urgency for us and for the Belizean people. We don’t know; we can’t force them, but we are hoping that they will reply and that the reply will be positive and helpful for us as we seek to maintain our people’s security and ability to use the land that we won and the land that has been defined in the 1859 Treaty—a treaty, which as you know, the Guatemalan government has declared void, but which in international law is not void at all, but is binding on both countries.
Shoman says that Ariticle 6 of the very same treaty of 1856 speaks to the right to free passage on the river. The Foreign Affairs Committee of the Guatemalan Congress have met with the president and have signaled their willingness to support the passage of the special agreement.
Assad Shoman, Opposition Representative: But the Foreign Minister of Guatemala did tell us that he has met with the twenty-two members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Congress and that they have expressed support for sending that protocol to amend the special agreement because as we know right now we are in a kind of limbo. We signed a special agreement and that was ratified, but then there is this protocol which changes the special agreement in certain ways, which has not yet been ratified so that where are we. So we need to have that done and we’ve been asking the international community to speak to Guatemala. They have been doing that and the latest that the Foreign Minister told us is that; that he has the support of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Congress and hopefully when it goes to Congress it will meet with approval.”
Minister Elrington says he remains hopeful that the proposal will be accepted by the Guatemalans.