Belizean vessel carrying members of the media denied access to sarstoon

The Sarstoon River apparently remains under the control of Guatemalan Army Forces.  This  would be a logical conclusion following another incident which occurred  Thursday June 16 when a Belizean vessel carrying members of the media and BTV Leader Wil Mehia tried to enter the Belizean side of the Sarstoon River and were accosted by a Guatemalan boat carrying armed soldiers.  The soldiers told the Belizeans,   “This is Guatemalan waters”. The media made the trip to Sarstoon following  apparent confusion over what agreements were really arrived at between Belize and Guatemala following the Istanbul meeting. Following that Turkey meeting,  Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington had said that there was an informal agreement that Guatemala would allow Belizeans unrestricted access to the Sarstoon River. A diplomatic note from Guatemala to Belize was leaked  to the media in which Guatemala made no acknowledgment of any such agreement ever being made but chided GOB for not issuing the agreed to joint communiqué that they did agree to. The results of today’s trip to the Sarstoon would apparently contradict those statements made by Belize’s Foreign Minister about Belize’s untrammeled access to the Sarstoon. This afternoon BTV leader Wil Maheia gave us his account of events and what he takes from it:

Wil Maheia, BPP Deputy Leader and Leader of the BTV: Early this morning around 6 or thereabout and we were heading to the Sarstoon, and once we hit the mouth of the Sarstoon, we took the big channel into the river. We passed the BDF forward operating base and continued up the river past the Sarstoon Island. But the minute we hit the river, we noticed that the Guatemalans jumped in their boat started it up and started following us. By the time we got to the other side of the island their boat was right there as well and they followed us up the vlcsnap-2016-06-17-09h26m24s110river for maybe a half a mile or so and we decided to turn back and when we turned back, they pulled up on the Belize side. Because first they were on their side of the river, when we turned around, they pull up on our side of the river and they tried to stop us and there were 9 of them in their boat with their guns. We said ‘no this is Belize, you can’t stop us’ and he says ‘no, stop the boat’ and I was saying ‘no, we are not going to stop the boat.’ So I instructed my captain not to stop this boat and we continued to proceed towards the mouth of the river and they insisted on stopping our boat. What happened, they tried to cut us off. I told our captain to give our boat more gas and what happened is that they had a boat similarly like ours, almost same horse power, but they had their boat overloaded with military people. So that give our boat to be a little faster than theirs and that was the reason there we got out of the river without them trying to blocked us, because they were trying to block our boat and we just were fortunately prevented them from doing that. We told them this is Belize’s territory and he keep saying ‘respect to protocol’ and I kept saying ‘no have protocol’ and then he said ‘ask your government.’ He is saying respect the protocol and I am saying what protocol, there is no protocol and I told he was on Belize side, you are violating our sovereignty. Finally we kept going and they were side by side and they were coming very close to us, similar to what happened to the folks in Orange Walk. I let them know it’s dangerous for you boat to be so close to our boat, because if you check the footage, you will see that their boat was so close to our boat, it was becoming dangerous. It was passing water into our boat. When I said that, then they kind of slowed a little. By that time we were heading towards the forward operating base and they went back over to their side

Reporter: Do you believe they intended to arrest you all?

Wil Maheia, BPP Deputy Leader and Leader of the BTV: Yes, clearly, because when they got close to our boat, their captain or the person in charged, instructed the Guatemalan soldiers to grab our boat and I said no and we did allow them to get close enough, which was like a blessing for us, because our boat was a little faster than their boat. There was no high speed chase, but our boat was a little faster than their boat

Government of Belize issued a press release today on the incident saying, [

“  The Government of Belize has received an initial report that a Belizean vessel with two media personnel was traversing the Sarstoon River this morning when they were approached by a Guatemalan Armed Forces (GAF) vessel, with nine (9) GAF persons on board. The GAF personnel attempted to stop the Belizean vessel, which, reportedly, was travelling along the north side of the Sarstoon Island.  The Belizean vessel was able to speed away back to Punta Gorda. GOB is investigating this incident in an effort to verify all its particulars including that the media vessel was in Belize’s waters. In the meantime, Guatemalan authorities have communicated that they attempted to stop the vessel to inquire as to the reason for the taking of pictures of their naval base. GOB is thus seeking to confirm the details of the Channel 5 version of events. GOB makes clear its firm position that if the report is accurate, the incident would constitute a breach of the spirit of the Confidence Building Measures and must also be rejected as prejudicial to the ongoing diplomatic efforts, including next week’s meeting in Washington, to establish a bilateral Cooperation Mechanism for the Sarstoon.”

About the Author