Tensions have been flaring up on the Sarstoon for months – and Belizean political, military and diplomatic officials had hoped that a detailed protocol they developed would defuse those tensions, and lay out a new "modus vivendi" – a way of coexisting on the shared river.

But, the Guatemalans rejected it; they want Belizeans to check in at their military base before going up the Sarstoon.  That's no compromise at all, and, today, on the banks of the Sarstoon at the newly opened forward operating base, the BDF Commander told us that the carefully framed proposals were both precise and practical, and he's quite disappointed that they were rejected:..

Brig Gen. David Jones - Commander, BDF
"When that protocol was being drafted it included myself of course. Our Minister of Foreign Affairs, our CEO from Foreign Affairs, A member of the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Assad Shoman; so it was a cross section that it was good that both the government, the opposition and also the military was involved in the protocol. When we drafted it we believed it was with the good intention of ensuring that there is peace in the Sarstoon area. Something at least similar to what we have along the entire western border with Guatemala because as militaries we work jointly with them along the western border. So we expected since there is some tension now in the Sarstoon we would have at least adopted some sort of protocol so that we could operate. It was geared towards mutual respect and cooperation in operating in this area because it's an international boundary in our mind. As far as they are concern the entire river belongs to them, we are of a different view. As long as that is transcended politically down to the militaries there is going to be a problem which is why there is tensions and provocations and also escalation of tension in the area of the Sarstoon because there isn't that unity of political directive to the military and if there is opposing political directives to the military you will expect to have problems here. I sat down in that meeting, the Guatemalan general was there and we both thought that the proposals were amicable and would have been useful to operate here. Unfortunately the protocol had to go back to their principals and unfortunately it was rejected. We were expecting that after a week they would have responded positively so it was a bit disappointing to hear that they had rejected the entire protocols and they are not going to abide by any of them, it was disappointing. But we are going to continue to see how we can best work with them to reduce tension in this area."

Daniel Ortiz
"Sir is it a thought of yours that maybe the political leaders of Guatemala are being abstinent being strong headed to reject something that the military leaders see as reasonable?"

Brig Gen. David Jones - Commander, BDF
"Well I wouldn't be able to comment on that because I don't have any interaction whatsoever with their political leaders. That would be a question more for them to answer or perhaps our Minister of Foreign Affairs in regards to how they behave."

Cabinet Says No 2007 Agreement With Guats

So what's the way forward?  Well, speaking at that same event, the Minister of National Security said that Cabinet rejected the Guatemalan counter proposal out of hand.  What's more, they checked the record and are certain that Belize never agreed to any checking-in with the Guatemalans before going up the Sarstoon.  He told us what Cabinet's firm decision is:

Reporter
"They are reverting back to the status quo which is to say that they own the river."

Hon. John Saldivar - Minister of National Security
"That's not the status quo; they are reverting to their claim."

Reporter
"Yes they are reverting to their claim that they own the river and we have to get permission to come on the river, was that permission sought today?"

Hon. John Saldivar - Minister of National Security
"No that was never sought by any authority in this country, that is their version of what they think the status quo was or is; it has never been the status quo for us here in country, we'll never have to seek any permission from any Guatemalan authority to use our own territory."

Mike Rudon - Channel 5 News
"Can you speak about that discussion in the Cabinet? I understand that Cabinet discussed that, the rejection of the proposals yesterday."

Hon. John Saldivar - Minister of National Security
"Yes we were informed officially in Cabinet of the rejection of the Guatemalans of our proposal. We also saw what their supposed counter proposal was which we again flatly reject because it says precisely what was asked just now, they want us to ask permission and we flatly reject that. We are going to continue to work the diplomatic channels to try to see some meeting of the minds but in the meantime as you have also indicated militarily we believe that we have some sort of agreement to maintain the peace in the area."

Mike Rudon - Channel 5 News
"Is it clear in Cabinet that this thing is indeed as the team has told us is a complete fabrication from Guatemala, this so called status quo, this gentleman's agreement that Belize must ask permission going to the Sarstoon?"

Hon. John Saldivar - Minister of National Security
"It is absolutely clear; we had in our possession yesterday in Cabinet the minutes of a meeting that was held in 2005 if not 2007 when a similar situation had occurred. We have minutes of that meeting that took place at the military level where it is clear to us that Belize never acceded to that point from the Guatemalans."

Channel 7