Things have been heating up on the Sarstoon - but, while that southern flashpoint simmers, diplomats from both Belize and Guatemala have been trying to take the hostility down a few notches in bi-lateral talks.
Those talks happened last week Friday in Benque Viejo Town, at the OAS Adjacency Zone Office. High ranking Political, Diplomatic and military leaders of both sides engaged in frank discussions on how to defuse tensions in the Sarstoon area.
This evening in Belmopan, Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred Elrington, Ambassador Assad Shoman, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted a press conference to update the nation on what exactly came out of those meetings.
Here's what Elrington had to say just a few hours ago:
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"We also had agreed that we will try to meet as quickly as possible after the Easter Break and so we did that meeting last week Friday. Prior to the meeting, we developed a draft of what we wanted to see incorporated in agreement with the Guatemalans. The draft was developed in consultation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Belize Defense Force, General Jones, and the Opposition. We completed that draft on Friday the 8th of April at a meeting of the Belize Delegation at the San Ignacio Hotel. at that meeting, participating were foreign minister myself, CEO Sylvester, General Jones, Ambassador Rosado, Alexis from Guatemala, and representing the leader of the opposition was Dr. Assad Shoman. In the Belize internal meeting in San Ignacio, we discussed our wish for the OAS to participate in the discussions between Belize and Guatemala. We thought that was very important, to have the OAS present. Our team's overall aims for the negotiations over the Sarstoon, as discussed were as follows, to reach an agreement with Guatemala as early as possible. The implementation of which will not be delayed by Guatemalan administrative procedures or legislative requirements. To ensure that any agreement reached would protect Belize's position and maintain peace and stability in the area until such time as Guatemala's claims and resolved. And to ensure that the OAS has a role in helping the two countries in maintaining peace and stability in the area. The meeting therefore was almost exclusively to formulate this modus vivendi, this agreement for utilizing the Sarstoon by both out militaries and by both the civilian populations of the two countries. That was the intention."
Proposals For Peace On The SarstoonSo, as you heard, the Belize delegation has come up with a draft protocol specifically tailored to the Sarstoon which, if is approved by Guatemala, should significantly improve both civilian and military interactions in the Sarstoon River. That could mean that, hypothetically, SATIIM, the BDF and possibly even the Belize Territorial Volunteers could enter the Sarstoon with no resistance from the Guatemalan military.
The Guatemalan delegation which attended last Friday's meeting has agreed to take it back to their principals for discussion, so the approval is still pending.
At today's press conference, Foreign Minister Elrington disclosed the proposals that Guatemala will respond to after consideration. Here they are in full detail:
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"The parties agree as follows, and these are the proposals, none of this have been formally agreed to by the Guatemalan side. These were the proposals that we put to them last week Friday but it has not been agreed to by them yet formally and we are hoping that they will signal their position on them as soon as possible. The first one was this, 'the channels of the Sarstoon River shall continue to be freely navigable by vessels and boats of each of the two countries without any interference or trailing by the other'. The second, 'whenever any vessel of any one of the parties approaches the base of the other party or any other vessel, it shall reduce its speed as a token of respect and friendship and to avoid injury or damage to persons or property'. Three, 'the law enforcement and arm forces of both party shall refrain from any threatening, abusive or unfriendly actions, words or behavior of any kind with respect to each other in and around the said river'. Four, 'law enforcement and arm forces of both party shall respect the right of the citizens of each other to make lawful and environmentally sustainable use of the river for fishing and recreation. Five, 'the party shall cooperate to prevent or limit hazards and reduce and eliminate adverse consequences arising from floods, droughts and incidents involving substances hazardous to water'. Six, 'the party shall cooperate in the basis of sovereign equality, mutual benefit and good faith in order to promote and achieve the goals of this agreement. Seven, 'the party shall cooperate in preventing and countering any illegal activities including drug trafficking, human trafficking, arm smuggling, contraband and other illegal activities of a transnational nature. And to this end, the parties may develop plans and conduct joint law enforcement and military patrols or operations including search and rescue which may include the participation of third countries'. Eight, 'the party shall cooperate to avoid incidents on the Sarstoon River conducive to tensions between them. In the event of such an incident, the party shall immediately communicate with one another to contain it, resolve it, and prevent its reoccurrence'. Nine, 'as a matter of courtesy and to promote good working relations, commanders assigned to the Sarstoon river may visit each other by mutual arrangement to discuss matters of mutual interest.' Ten, 'the party shall, on a regular basis, exchange information, this includes an undertaking for any one party to inform the other party beforehand of any non-routine activity near the Sarstoon River. By mutual arrangement, the party shall install practical means of radio and other communication to facilitate these exchanges'. Eleven, 'if a dispute arises between the parties as to the interpretation or implementation of this protocol, there shall seek as soon as reasonable, practicable to resolve the negotiation and should they fail to satisfactory resolve any such dispute, either of the parties may request the Secretary General of the OAS to use his good offices to propose a solution to the dispute and the other party hereby agrees to accept such offices and to comply in good faith with the recommendations of the Secretary General'."
Both Elrington and Assad Shoman, who is acting as the Opposition Leader's Representative in the Bilateral Talks, stressed that the delegation appeared to have received these proposals favorably.
Of Course, the final decision on this "modus vivendi" will come from the Guatemalan Government. The hope is that in the meantime, there will be no other incidents in the Sarstoon while this proposal is being reviewed.