Bze-Guat Diplomatic Standoff, Hon. Elrington: "It Is a Crisis"

This week, the news has been dominated by the community outrage in Cayo - culminating in yesterday's shutdown and peaceful demonstration in the San Ignacio Town Center.

But, what's gone under the radar is the fact that Belize is facing a diplomatic crisis with its neighbor Guatemala. It stems from the incident a week ago when a BDF Soldier shot a Guatemalan Citizen in the Ceibo Chico area of the Chiquibul.

Francisco Quin Yat, a 37 year old Guatemalan farmer from a border village called Monte Los Olivos was killed by a BDF soldier last week Friday.

The Soldier's account is that he saw Quin Yat with a machete and a box in his hand and ordered him to stop. Instead he started to advance towards the soldier - who fired 6 warning shots and then retreated. He says Quin Yat continued to advance. Eventually he shot him from a defensive position when the Guatemalan had raised the machete over his head.

A Post mortem examination confirmed that he was shot to the neck - and it was an act of self-defence. But it is the third Guatemalan civilian to be killed by the BDF in Belizean territory within a year, and anti-Belize sentiment in that country is high.

So much so that at the official level - the Guatemalans have threatened to send home our Ambassador and shut down the border! Today we spoke to foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington about what he agrees is a diplomatic crisis:...

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"The Guatemalans as you have said are very incense about it. They have threatened to expel our Ambassador from Guatemala and to lead the diplomatic charge against us internationally. As a matter of fact they have complain to the Americans Hillary Clinton and to the Europeans and to other allies in the international community asking them to bring pressure to bear on our government to cause our BDF soldiers not to respond to these trespassers in a manner which would lead to their deaths."

"They take the argument that these are people who are really looking for a livelihood, they are trespassing in your country, they are in fact very likely stealing from you but it is not the standard response that if you catch a person trespassing in your house, even in your country - it's not the standard response that you respond to them in a manner that is going to cause them to be killed. That is not done; if a trespassers comes to your yard you can't kill them. Under the laws of Belize you are allowed if your life is threaten or love one or some other person to use the kind of force that could lead to another person's death but it is not the kind of force that you used. In fact a person caught stealing in your yard or in your premises in the night - the other part that makes it difficult is that the death is caused by military action. Normally for people who are trespassing and for people who are stealing is a police issue not so much a military issue especially if it is way inside your country; 7-8 miles in. This is really a matter for the civil defence - the police as oppose to the military. That's how they see it."

"Our situation is a peculiar one where we have the military guarding the border and in the interiors but it is not something that the international community understands and it is something that happens in our particular case largely because we have the soldiers there. If in fact we had the police out there they are trained to respond to these incidents in a different way and is the likelihood that the circumstance would have been different but the aspect of that fact that it is military and then it is the third incident in less than a year. It puts us in a very difficult position internationally. Even though international allies are wondering especially those who are not sufficiently sees of the situation. Even they wonder can't we do something."

Jules Vasquez
"What are we saying to the world about what will be done?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"We are always careful to observe the due process of law. We are only the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so whenever there is a death that is mysterious or unusual circumstances the first thing you have to do is to have a post-mortem and then they get the police report and then that report is going to be forwarded to the DPP."

Jules Vasquez
"Will the government of Belize compensate Mr. Yat or the family of Mr. Yat for his loss of life?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"No, we won't compensate them."

Jules Vasquez
"Will we pay anything for inconvenience?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"The government has agreed to make a grant - really it is neither. It's not a compensation but it's what we call as an act of compassionate because he has left a wife as we were told and some small kids and the Prime Minister thought that that was the best to show goodwill, to show good neighbourliness and Cabinet was in full agreement with that approach."

"The last thing I would want is for the Guatemalans to send back our Ambassador and close the border with us. But they could do that. It is going to hurt business, it's going to hurt people who are ill, it's going to hurt the relationship we have with SICA, it's going to hurt the relationship we have with the OAS. It's going to really have serious regional and international repercussions."

"We as a small peaceful nation believe that we have a responsibility to try to avoid that course of action at all cost and that is why we take the decisions we take; maybe wrong and some people are not going to agree with it but we think that as a responsible government we have got to act in that way. You may not agree with it but at least you understand why we do what we do."

Jules Vasquez
"Now where do relations stand right now? I know that this is almost a footnote but I know that they are having a regional music festival in Belize this weekend and the Guatemalan contingent has withdrawn because no state sponsorship for any activity in Belize."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"These are the kind of repercussion you get which hurts all kinds of people. There are repercussions that you don't even see. What we are trying to do Jules is to make sure that the fallout is contained. They are upset now and they are on diplomatic initiative now, they are given us certain ultimatum to admit and responsibility within a certain time or they are going to take all kinds of actions. We can't admit responsibility for the action largely because it's a matter that has to be dealt with in a legal process. Our courts determine whether or not we are liable. It's not something that we can comply with, but to the extent that we can say to them look we are doing all in our power; that you see what happen. We have let you seen the post-mortem, we have let you witness it and you have the report, we have contacted the OAS, we have also contacted our diplomatic allies; the British, Europeans and we have let them know what has happen - these are the facts."

Jules Vasquez
"Are we facing a diplomatic crisis?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"It's very likely. The statement that we have gotten from the Guatemalans is very severe and stern and we are taking it very seriously."

Jules Vasquez
"We receive that statement when?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"We got that information from our Ambassador from the same Saturday. As a matter of fact he was calling on Saturday and we had a very rough time from the Foreign Minister in Guatemala. The Deputy Foreign Minister in Guatemala, the British Ambassador from Guatemala calls him and he was reportedly very stern with her and I spoke with the Guatemalan Foreign Minister Saturday evening and he indicated the difficulty they are in because they have a constituency too."

Jules Vasquez
"You mention an ultimatum. How soon do we have to meet this ultimatum?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"They gave us 21 days to make a response. I think we are going to be able to do that within that time. All that we are going to do is to act in accordance with our laws. We are going to say this is the report of what transpired; this is the opinion of the pathologist; this was an act committed in self-defence. As soon as we get the information or if we get in before then from the DPP in terms of the course of action we'll let you know, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is going to conduct or pass onto you the information that we glean once the due process observe in Belize with respect to these matters."

As far as we were able to determine, the file has not yet been sent to the DPP's office.

We'll have more from Minister Elrington later in the news as we ask him about the fiasco that unfolded at the community meeting in San Ignacio on Wednesday night.

Channel 7