Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Guatemalan Armed Forces remove Belize flags from the Sarstoon River; LOO condemns incident


While across the country on Sunday, September 10th, Belizeans were celebrating the 225th Anniversary of the Battle of St. George’s Caye, a group of Belizeans headed to the Sarstoon River on the southern border with Guatemala to celebrate the occasion with a flag-raising ceremony. The event was spearheaded by the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV), and as on previous occasions, it was interrupted by the Guatemalan armed forces. The BTV said the Guatemalan military personnel removed three Belizean flags planted on Belize’s soil. The Belize Ministry of Foreign Affairs is yet to respond to this latest incident, but the Opposition issued a statement condemning the actions by the Guatemalan military.
The Leader of the Opposition, the Honourable Moses ‘Shyne’ Barrow, issued a statement on Tuesday, September 12th, registering the condemnation of the events that saw the Guatemalan military beach Belize’s integrity by illegally entering onto its territory and removing three Belizean flags from the Sarstoon island. Barrow spoke about the Battle of St. George’s Caye, in which a mighty large Spanish army attempted to expel the settlers of what is now Belize. But they fought back, holding onto their grounds. “We are not a bold, courageous, and resilient people that will never cower in the face of external threats,” his statement referred to this historical event.

Honorable Shyne Barrow

The official note continued by saying that Belize is a peaceful nation that prefers to live in peace with its neighbours, including Guatemala, but that it will never compromise Belize’s territorial integrity. As such, the Opposition called on the Government of Belize and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Eamon Courtenay, to summon Belize’s Ambassador to Guatemala and protest the breach of the nation’s borders. Barrow called for an urgent diplomatic note to be sent to the Guatemalan government demanding their military adhere to international law and confidence-building measures agreed to protocols that neither nation shall use force or the threat of force to pursue their position concerning the territorial dispute. The Opposition asks the government to protest these actions to the Organization of American States and friends for immediate intervention. “The BTV and all Belizean women, children, and men should not face intimidation, aggression, and harassment by Guatemalan armed forces when traveling to our territory at our Sarstoon Island,” the statement stressed.
This was the BTV’s 15th annual flag-raising on Sarstoon Island. The BTV stated that every time they visit this area, they are threatened by the Guatemalan military. They called on the government to provide more protection to Belizeans visiting this area of the country. BTV’s Wil Maheia said that on this occasion, they were surrounded by Guatemalan boats, and later, they removed the flags planted on the Belizean side of the river and the island. The Belize Defence Force tries to maintain a presence. Their Forward Operating Base in the area is currently undergoing evaluation for refurbishment.
The issue in this area of the country, at the end of the southern Toledo District, stems from the ongoing territorial dispute between Belize and Guatemala. The neighboring country has claimed the entire Sarstoon River, including an island in the middle of the river mouth. However, per the 1859 Treaty between Great Britain and Guatemala, a portion of the river (one-half) belongs to Belize. However, as of April 2016, and as per orders of the then Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales, the military of that country has enforced their control over the area in the Sarstoon River, including the island from where Guatemalan soldiers removed the Belizean flags.

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