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#511939 - 02/26/16 11:00 AM Maheia back to the Sarstoon this weekend  
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Assad Shoman’s Take On Sarstoon Dispute

Border advocate Wil Maheia has been planning another trip down the Sarstoon River, which is to take place this weekend, but once again, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is imploring him not to do it.

Maheia and the Belize Territorial Volunteers want to visit the trip to the Gracias a Dios border marker, and that will once again put him and the other Belizeans who take the trip in the crosshairs of the Guatemalan navy, who keep a very watchful eye of the River.

A release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs cautions, "while there are no public areas in Belize where Belizeans are not permitted to visit, there are areas in the proximity of our western and southern borders which are prone to generate tensions between the citizens of the two countries, and, in the circumstances, the Ministry maintains its view that it is imprudent and potentially dangerous for the organizers of excursions of this type to expose innocent Belizeans to the risk of inadvertently coming into conflict with Guatemalans be they civilians or officials."

We take it that once again, Maheia and the volunteers will exercise their right to free movement. That may cause some tensions on both sides, once again the discussion on the status of the Sarstoon River in the grand scheme of the territorial dispute is being brought up once again.

As we told you, the Bar Association of Belize held their law conference last week Friday, and they invited presentations from all the experts in the field. One of those was Former Foreign Affairs Minister, Assad Shoman, who was the lead negotiator on the Guatemalan issue for a long time, and he was a co-framer of the Confidence Building Measures.

Today, he stopped by an discussed a few of the points he made to the attorneys who attended the Bar Association Conference:

Assad Shoman, Former Foreign Affairs Minister
"What I said for example to the Bar Association, yes we have to amend the Maritime Areas Act as I mentioned. We have to stop that Guatemalan new position on the Sarstoon and we have to clean up our own house as well. We have to for example, amend the Referendum Act and amend it in the sense that you don't require 60% of people to vote to make the referendum valid and not only because Guatemala has protested about that. But because the act doesn't make sense to me. I mean, we have been taught to believe in democracy. Democracy, we are told means the majority; 50% plus 1 - that's the majority right. If you go to elections who wins? Whoever gets 50% plus 1. So when you give 40% of the electorate the right to block what 59% say, that's not democracy right. It doesn't make sense. So let's change it and also let's be very clear about what we are doing in the Sarstoon and let us call for new confidence building measures. That's the next proposal; new confidence building measures on the Sarstoon. We didn't do it during the facilitation process, because it wasn't a problem. It's a problem now and we need to do it."

As viewers will remember, the authorities in Belize have already revealed that Guatemala's position on the Sarstoon has changed recently, where it's taken a more aggressive profile. Well, Former Diplomat Shoman discussed that with us, and said that the Belize Government should not be taking that light. As a matter of fact, he thinks that whenever there are incidents which shows this new profile, Belize should be making vigorous diplomatic protests.

Some examples which viewers may remember are the regularly trailing of BDF change-over for the Cadenas Observation Post by the Guat Navy, or the showdown between the Volunteers and the military last year August.

To make his point, he went into his archives, to find the 1850's Convention on the Boundaries of British Honduras, as it was then called. Here's Shoman's explanation of the significance of this treaty which modern-day Guatemala is ignoring:

Assad Shoman, Former Foreign Affairs Minister
"As you can see from the map on your screen, its reads Map of Part of the Boundary between British Honduras and Guatemala, as define on the convention on the 30th April, 1859 and surveyed by the commissioners appointed under the said convention between the 4th December, 1860 and the 21st April, 1861."

"Then it has a note where it shows "the latitude and longitude of the Gracias Adios border mark and of the Garbutt's Falls border mark. There was no border mark put at the Sarstoon. But it says here on the map, the boundary line is shown by a red line dotted where not surveyed.""

"Now, that statement is saying that as the map shows a red line, that is where the boundary is and there is a certificate "We certify that the boundary lines shown on this map are correct." That is signed by the British boundary commissioner and that it is signed by the Guatemalan boundary commissioner. The British commissioner puts "Belize, 13th May, 1961" and signed. The Guatemalan commissioner puts "Belice, 13th May, 1861" and signed."

"On your screen a close up of the Sarstoon path of the river to see where that red line is. At the bottom going into the Sarstoon river there is a red line and you can see very clearly. I hope you are zooming it enough for everyone to see. It says the River Sarstoon and the red line you can see goes under the island very clearly. So that this was agreed by the Guatemalan government and the British government. It is attached in the archives of Great Britain to the treaty and it is certified as true and correct by both Guatemalan and British commissioners. So, doubt, there is not. It's very clear and I think we need to be very firmed with Guatemala."

"The government of Guatemala has to come to its senses and know that that is the boundary. The territory lies where it lies. To the north of that line is Belizean territory including the island and to the south is Guatemalan and we should not allow them to get away with any action or word that says otherwise without the strongest protest and without alerting the international community, the United Nations, the Security Council that our sovereignty and territorial integrity is being threatened by the army of the Guatemalan government, by the state of Guatemala and that this cannot be tolerated. We have to take a very firmed position on that and we have to get them to agree to have confidence building measures along that border."

We'll tell you about that BTV Trip down Sarstoon, if the advocates decide to go despite the Government's warning.

Channel 7

#512053 - 03/01/16 10:43 AM Re: Maheia back to the Sarstoon this weekend [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 52,571
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Saturday’s Scene On Sarstoon

Of course, that was then, this is now - where the Guatemalans are taking effective occupation of the Sarstoon - even if it means parking a navy vessel on the Belzie side of the river. Here's exactly how it looked on Saturday:...

Daniel Ortiz reporting
Bright and Early on Saturday morning, Border Activist Wil Maheia and members of the press arrived at the docking location. They intended to make a trip to Gracias A Dios, and that meant travelling through the Sarstoon River.

On this particular day, there were a number of Belizean military men also making preparations to go to sea, but don't be mistaken, they were not going to accompany the Belizean civilians on this trip. The Government, seeing the danger of such an action, had warned, and Maheia had ignored.

Wil Maheia - Leader of Sarstoon Expedition
"Well today as you know it's one year today since the 37 Belizeans were captured or detained or held hostage by the Guatemalan military. It was right in this same area. Clearly as you can see we are on the Belize side. So today, we can't let that go, something that happened so drastic in our history - we couldn't let that go unnoticed. So the purpose of today's trip is to remember that Guatemalans came into Belizean territory and detained Belizeans or held them hostage."

So, that meant that once again, they would have to venture into uncertain waters, where they would most likely encounter Guatemalan military personnel.

The trip from PG Town to the mouth of the Sartoon was as it always is, beautiful and scenic, and while they were in Belizean waters, it resembled a trip to the cayes.

Once the arrived at the mouth of the Sarstoon, however, the situation became instantly pressurized. The Guatemalan Military was there, and this time, they appeared more purposeful than in the encounters from last year.

In the past, they took on the roles of watchful Guardian sentinels. This time, they appeared more like a blockade set up to stop Belizeans.

It looked to be a situation that could get confrontation, and so, a prudent decision was made by the captains to end the trip before an international incident could have a chance to happen.

The 2 Belizean vessels steered clear of the Guatemalan boats:

Wil Maheia - Leader of Sarstoon Expedition
"Okay, what's going on out here as you could see, there is like 5 Guatemalan military boats. They don't only have one or two people on it, some of these boats have 10, 15 people on it. You could point the cameras there and you could see the amount of Guatemalan military. So of course, its human being, human nature - it's very intimidating and they are doing that. You could see we are pushing our boats towards our military outpost or towards our military camp. You could see the minute we try getting into it, they're backing us clearly inside Belize waters again. So, I mean right now as a Belizean we cannot even access our own military base without having to check in with the Guatemalans. I just find that this is very disappointing. The captains' don't feel like to get confrontational of the boat. I don't mind like pushing forward, but again, it's not just like my show, I have to respect what the captain say too. I think we are clearly in Belizean waters, so we should be going there. Of course the captains feel a different way when they see all that military might. Clearly they are undermining us. But clearly we can't give up. This is Belize and we have to fight for every - Philip Goldson and George Price said "not a blade of grass and not a centimeter of land." So I think that we cannot give up. We cannot allow these people. I called on the Belizean people to raise up and see these guys are occupying our territory. Today, there is a lot more military presence. Guatemala have much more military boats and much more military people in their boats. So they are more military presence than the last time."

"Do you feel this is a tactic used to claim additional territory if they intimidate the soldiers or citizens of Belize?"

Wil Maheia - Leader of Sarstoon Expedition
"Well international law has it and I think that it's in the court of law. If Guatemala occupies this for X amount of years and there is no protest from the Belizeans or there is nothing to try and get it back, then of course they (court) will rule in their (Guatemala) favor. I forgot the terminology right now, but occupation of land or sea and if nobody opposes then, then have the right to that land eventually. But I really think that Belizean people need to call on their government to really do something about this situation."

Maheia interpreted this presence as a more active and aggressive profile of Guatemala's claim to Sarstoon.

"The government has issued this release - they say it's not safe and they are not saying that you can't come here, but there is possibility of danger. Does this mean now that you will give up after today's efforts assuming you don't push forward?"

Wil Maheia - Leader of Sarstoon Expedition
"Clearly we are not giving up. We will not give up. This river belongs to us as well as to Guatemala. Half belongs to us and half belongs to them. We are being denied our right to go on our river and I just think that's it's unfortunate, it's unfair and in addition to that the amount of destruction that Guatemalans are doing to our environment, we need to take a stand."

Another Sarstoon Showdown – Foreign Minister Brushes It Off

There was another incident with Guatemala in the disputed Sarstoon River this weekend - and tonight, it is causing major political and diplomatic waves. As we told you last week, Wil Maheia and the Belize Territorial Volunteers organized a trip to the Gracias a Dios monument to mark the one-year anniversary of Belizeans being detained by the Guatemalan Military on the Sarstoon. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned strongly against it, but the Volunteers were undeterred. They set out on Saturday only to encounter a Guatemalan navy that was determined to drive them off. They blockaded the river, and did so while coming over to the Belize half of the Sarstoon. The volunteers group turned back- and no one was hurt. But the encounter has left a deep impression in the national psyche - because the message is Belizeans can't go into the Sarstoon.

Today Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington said he was relived no one was hurt:...

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"I think what we are very thankful for is that nobody got injured and in fact they came back safe. Nobody was taken to Guatemala. Nobody was taken into custody and that ended well. There is a suggestion coming from our military that one of the Guatemalan vessels may have entered into Belizean territory and that we are going to deal with in the usual way. We would lodge a protest and a strong protest to the Guatemalans saying that we do not countenance that kind of activity. Because if we were to come into conflict with the Guatemalans and that were to erupt into violence, the likelihood is that innocent people would get killed or damaged. This is an area that is disputed and you have the potential for harm to come about. It could be inadvertently, but in situations where there is tension or there is likely to be tension, one needs to be prudent."

"Sir, from what I saw on Saturday from 4-5 Guatemalan boats filled with armed military men. They somewhat created a barrier in front of at the mouth of the Sarstoon River. Clearly, I think more than two of them were in Belizean waters. One of them was directly in front of the Forward Operating Base. My first question is whether or not would you concede that we lost Sarstoon Island or Sarstoon River? And 2) you mentioned that any Belizean who may go in that area may put themselves in danger. Does that mean that our Belize Defence Force soldiers cannot go freely to the FOB without seeking permission of the Guatemalan Naval Ship captain?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"It is not understanding that they have ever been seeking permission to do that. It is my understanding they have always been going there and they have always been going there freely."

"Do you agree that Guatemala is in total control of the Sarstoon River and Sarstoon Island?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"No. I don't agree with that at all. I don't subscribe to that at all. As far as I know our military go up there every week, every single week and I suspect that our fisher folk are other people use that water very freely. But their position is consistent, they claimed the area and therefore they think they are protecting their territory. We claim part of the area and we want to go there. So we have a dispute."

"Not our territory...."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"How do you mean we are not protecting it?"

"Just recently you are building a forward operating base."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"Yeah, we are building our forward operating base on our side of the Sarstoon."

"To which one of the Guatemalan boats were directly in front of. It gives us the impression as though...."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"No. Listen to this. The fact that you claimed something, does not mean that others don't claimed it. Nothing that just happened has surprised us. We understand these things and we are prepared for it. We are very grateful that nothing more serious occurred Saturday that what occurred. What they want to prove by going down there and getting yourself locked up? Last time when the group went down there, Guatemalans collected them and took them to Guatemala. They brought them back the following morning or they release them the following morning. What do you want Belize to do under those circumstances?"

Daniel Ortiz
"Sir but aren't showing clear instances where we will only co-exist with Guatemala if we are submissive?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"Actually no. It is not my sense Daniel that the Guatemalans are coming over here and doing anything to us. But it is not the responsibility of any and everybody to go out there and try to solve that. We have authorities to solve it. We have people who area skilled, who are trained and who are paid to deal with that. We don't want anybody to go and interfere with that situation. Because by doing so, you are putting your soldiers in harm's way unnecessarily."

Elrington also reacted to the PUP's position that Belize should recall its Ambassador to Guatemala Alexis Rosado because of the aggressive profile that Guatemala's military and foreign relations has taken. Elrington scoffed at that:

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"It's got to be a most ridiculous call. Why would you be doing that? So what, you don't want to continue to talk to the Guatemalans? How are you going to solve the problem with them unless you talk to them? You have to talk to them. They are not going to move you know. They will stay there in perpetuity. Now you want to have enemies behind you, or you want friends? And how do you go about getting friends? By behaving belligerent? No. Not being submissive neither. The Guatemalans are saying I want to deal with it at the ICJ."

Elrington also noted that it was under the PUP that BDF soldiers were arrested and locked up by the Guatemalan military - which led to negotiations where the words boundary or border was substituted for "adjacency zone."

Channel 7

#512081 - 03/02/16 11:17 AM Re: Maheia back to the Sarstoon this weekend [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 52,571
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Foreign Minister Says “Definitely Maybe” To Guatemalan Incursion

Last night, we brought you the Sarstoon Showdown on Saturday in which 5 Guatemalan navy vessels formed a blockade and prevented border Activist Wil Maheia from entering the Mouth of the Sarstoon.

Maheia says the Guatemalan military entered Belizean territorial waters, and enforced their control, which is a violation of International law. He's joined by members of his Belize Progressive Party, and from the Opposition, PUP in denouncing actions of the Guatemalans.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Government aren't so quick to condemn Guatemala, and Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred Elrington told the press yesterday that the BDF report is that only 1 Guatemalan military vessel may have entered into Belizean territory.

Since there are no confidence building measures in the Sarstoon, there can be no official verification if the Guatemalan's actually incurred in Belizean waters. Elrington told us that Belize will be sending a diplomatic note of protest to the Government of Guatemalan.

But, today, the Foreign Minister did concede that there is a possibility that the Guatemalan river vessel did enter Belizean waters. He stresses that "if" - and that's a big "if" - the Guatemalan boat crossed over into the Belizean side of the river, that's an illegal action:

"If you get definitive proof that they were in Belize territorial waters, what international laws would they have broken?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"Well you would not supposed to come. Certainly the military forces have no business entering into the space sovereign independent nations. That is normally regarded as an act of aggression. It's tantamount to initiation of hostile action and that is contrary to international law. Just like how you can't trespass into my yard. You breach civil law. But when you have that kind of thing, it is reserved by forceful diplomatic notes to try to get them not repeat it and then if it continues to be repeated then it has to be address in these multinational forum like the OAS and the UN. Where you discuss and debate it and work out a modus Vivendi whereby these things don't continue to happen."

Daniel Ortiz
"Can they claim right of innocent passage in this particular instance?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"No. This is not a case of passage. This is a case of coming in. This is not a case that they are passing through, trying to get from one country to the next in the line - that innocent passage. There is no thought of that. The suggestion is that one of the smaller vessels may well have entered into Belizean waters although they have not been able to verify. But the bigger vessels have not. That is the information I have at this time. But even with respect to the smaller vessel. It has no business coming into our waters and therefore we have to protest that."

Channel 7

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