Members of the People’s United Party today successfully circled Sarstoon Island. The expedition consisted of some 18 persons including the boat crew and media houses. Among those on the trip was Party Leader, Honorable John Briceño; National Deputy Party Leader, Honorable Cordel Hyde; Party Chairman, Henry Charles Usher; Lead Opposition Senator, Eamon Courtenay, and area representatives Honorables Kareem Musa; Oscar Requeña and Rodwell Ferguson. The Leader of the Opposition spoke about his personal feelings to be at Belize’s southern boundary:
John Briceno, Leader of the People’s United Party: Certainly it’s a great feeling that you can come all the way so deep in the Southern Part of your country, an area where most Belizeans don’t have access, and certainly it was important for us to have this trip because we said that we wanted to have this as part of an educational tour so that we can come first hand to look what is taking place at the Southern Tip of our country. Here we are having a firsthand look at what is taking place. Certainly we saw a lot of illegal fishing taking place in the area, and on the other boat I saw a lot of nets that are illegal that we should not have but it allows you to also be able to talk to the BDF and for them to give you their views or their experiences as to what is taking place. I am happy to know that tensions have eased down a bit here, well we’re pretty much at the border between us and Guatemala. As I remember talking to a lot of ex or retired BDF soldiers who said they’ve always had cordial relationships with the Guatemalan military, but over the past few months the Guatemalan’s have become more aggressive and try to push us further and further in our country. As we said we in the PUP that we will never allow for that to happen. It is important for us to stand firm every step of the way to ensure that we do not give up a single inch of sovereignty in our country. Being here and getting a firsthand look at the place, it allows you to whenever you think of policy, that you can visualize what is really taking place on the ground. It is important to us as a party to bring some of the leaders, elected and non elected to be here so that we all could take a good look and have a better understanding and appreciation about the challenged that we were facing here on the Southern Tip of our country.
While the Guatemalans’ restraint is welcome, Senator Courtenay told us that it remains important that we get a long-term arrangement on the Sarstoon:
Eamon Courtenay: I think that it is a good sign. I am not particularly confident that that will remain the situation. I think as you are aware there was some information given to the Guatemalans to expect this visit and therefore they are perhaps under good behavior. What we need is a permanent long standing arrangement that the Guatemalans respect our right. We understand that they have a dispute but you don’t settle a dispute by enforcing what you believe to be your right is so even though today so far, we have not experienced any stopping by the Guatemalans. It is indeed a good sign that we have a right to come here but as I say, this was told to them that we would be visiting and the situations happen when there is no advance notice. How will they behave? And we want to have an arrangement with them that they understand our rights and that our rights are respected and that all Belizeans are able to visit.
Former military officer Major Lloyd Jones, was on his first visit to the area in civilian clothing, says the Guatemalans’ aggression is new – and Belize must respond:
Major LLoyd Jones, Former Military Officer: It is a familiar are for me but this is the first time that I’ve actually visited here because normally we’re just simply passing through to do some change over or a field visit. To be able to come here and see the FOB up close and personal is really quite an experience. I left the BDF in 2004, and at that time we did not have the kind of difficulties that we are now seeing on the ground. Those changeovers went without incident and it was only recently that we began to see the Guatemalan testing our sovereignty by attempting to restrict access into the area. As we know and as the records show, that has reached the point now where it had created extreme tension between the two countries. But I am happy to see that we’re asserting our sovereignty. We have to find a way now to roll the Guatemalans back from this position that they have taken that all of the Sarstoon belongs to them and I think that this is a good step. We’ve just got to ensure that we provide the kind of support for our troops
We are informed that while a Guatemalan naval vessel was docked at their Sarstoon Naval Command Centre, there was no one in it. The expedition met no resistance from the Guatemalan Armed Forces. The group set out early friday morning on the trip and although they had boat problems, they arrived safely back to Punta Gorda Town. When media houses tried to visit the Sarstoon River last Friday, they made it halfway down the Northern channel of the river when they were approached by members of the Guatemalan Armed Forces in a metal shark. and forced to abandon the trip. The PUP say that they went into the sarstoon river and also circled the Sarstoon island.