Prime Minister Dean Barrow says that Guatemalan military boats intercepted Belizean Territorial Volunteers in Belizean Waters on Sunday.
And the fact that armed forces of the Guatemalan navy entered Belizean waters in order to prevent unarmed Belizeans, members of the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV), from attempting to access Sarstoon Island on Sunday has prompted the Government into action. A protest note was sent to Guatemalan authorities by the Government following today’s meeting of the National Security Council in Belize City. Prime Minister Dean Barrow says that based on the initial reports by the Chief Observer from the Organization of American States (OAS) Magdalena Talamas, who was with the Belizean vessels, to Belizean Ambassador Stewart Leslie, the Guatemalans’ actions overrode any of Belize’s own inadvertent ones.
Hon. Dean Barrow: It is my belief that what the OAS calls the mouth of Sarstoon river is clearly in Belizean waters and that the Guatemalan Navy committed an incursion when they intercepted our boats at that spot. The territorial volunteers and the Belizean media confirmed the fact of this incursion, and General Jones and Admiral Borland after reviewing video footage, fully concur. Now whether our four volunteer boats also went into Guatemala during the course of entering, circling, and exiting the area of the island, must remained unanswered for now. The volunteers say no, and the OAS doesn’t say yes, but regardless what may later be established on that score, the Guatemalan incursion certainly happened first. And any unwitting Belizean entry into Guatemala by unarmed civilian boats is of a different order completely from the deliberate violation committed against us by a presumably well armed Guatemalan Navy.
However, the Government continues to appeal to the BTV not to return to the area, saying that their point has been made and that their patriotism is inspirational, and that they should not continue to put anyone in danger. Here is how the Prime Minister put it.
Hon. Dean Barrow: Now I want to make clear that I perfectly understand and indeed applaud the sentiment that motivated the territorial volunteers. There decision arose from feelings of patriotism that are not just commendable, but inspirational . Nevertheless, theirs was an incomplete grasp of the facts, a situation for which perhaps government is at least partly to blame. As a result their actions, though well intended, were wrong. For it cannot be right to insert any Belizean, especially children into a situation so fraught with danger. Danger arising both from the presence of the Guatemalan’s Navy, and from other conditions including overcrowded expedition boats. In the end those boats were taking on water and some frantic bailing had to be done, this is especially the case because the territorial volunteers’ purposed driven visit, their course of action was entirely unnecessary to make a point that our security forces make every week.
Going back to the report, we asked Prime Minister Barrow why it was necessary to only provide a summary and why the entire report could not be made immediately available. He told us that subject to a check with the diplomats that could be made so, but he is of the opinion that it will not provide any clearer view of who was where at what time on Sunday.
Hon. Dean Barrow: I want to check as to what the protocols are in terms of the release of that OAS document in total and in the form in which we received it. I personally can’t see any objection to handing it out but let me just find out from the diplomats what the position is. In any event though, that report won’t help you to determine the questions that you’re asking. The report says that certain things happened at the mouth of the Sarstoon, I caution, again, I have the report in Spanish and nobody ever accused me at being brilliant in Spanish so I hope I’m not mistranslating anything. I’m telling you, when they talk about the South Canal, they don’t tell you where that is, there’s nothing like that in the report but you can easily find out from our General and our Admiral what the configuration of the area, you won’t get it from this report.
And even in the face of what happened in the Sarstoon on Sunday, the Prime Minister insisted to us when we questioned whether a “no-go” zone had been established that whatever portion of the river is Belize’s is free for travel and exploration, not just for the BTV, but for all Belizeans.
Hon. Dean Barrow: If there were a No Go Zone, the territorial volunteers would not have been allowed to proceed on Sunday.
Reporter: But is there now an established one?
Hon. Dean Barrow: No sir, I said, I appealed to them and I said if they decide to proceed against all reason and advice then what we will try and do is to contain, once more, any fallout from their voyage. We cannot stop them, this is a democracy and we insist that the Sarstoon river, from the mid-channel point and certainly the Sarstoon river Island is ours, so Belizeans are free to go there.
The Prime Minister said he would be meeting with members of the BTV’s northern arm, the Northern Territorial Volunteers, on Thursday.