Tensions between Belize and Guatemala at an “all-time high” following a military clash on Saturday (March 12) at the Sarstoon River on the southern Belizean border.
A press statement from the Government of Belize Press Office, which was published on Facebook on March 13, says that on Saturday there was a confrontation on the Sarstoon River between the Belize Defence Force (BDF) and the Guatemalan Armed Forces (GAF).
“The GAF approached the Belize’s Forward Operating Base (FOB), though they never actually attempted to come on to our land, and behaved in an extremely hostile and threatening manner, insisting that our troops should not be at the Sarstoon. The Belize Forces stood their ground and after some time the GAF withdrew. In the intervening period the BDF Commander General Jones had spoken to an opposite member in Guatemala and Prime Minister Dean Barrow had sent a message to President Jimmy Morales,” writes the Belize Press Office.
The Belizean government said, however, that although the confrontation was resolved peacefully, “it is clear that tension with Guatemala over the Sarstoon and Belize’s insistence on its sovereignty rights in accordance with the 1859 Treaty Demarcation of the river, is at an all-time high”.
Talks between Guatemala and Belize were due to take place on March 15 in Washington D.C. under the supervision of the Organization of American States (OAS).
Saturday’s military clashed followed several alleged land invasions which communities said had committed by Guatemalan fishermen and cattle ranchers.
Communities under threat
At the beginning of March, Belizean national newspaper Amandala reported that communities in southern Belize had claimed Guatemalans were invading their land.
Wil Maheia, founder of Belize Territorial Volunteer (BTV), told Amandala that Guatemalan fisherman had set up illegal camps on the northern bank of the Sarstoon River, and that the Belizean authorities were doing little to address the issue.
Maya communities living along the western border in Toledo also said they were under threat from land invasions carried out by Guatemalans.
On March 5, Pablo Mis, the coordinator of the Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA) and Toledo Alcaldes Association, said ongoing land invasions were threatening Maya communities living on the border, and that villagers were being forced back by Guatemalans wanting to develop illegal cattle ranches and pastures inside Belize.
“Those on the Guatemalan side have a great level of boldness in coming further and further into Belizean territory,” Mis told Amandala.
The MLA coordinator also revealed that Maya communities have been living in fear of violent attacks because similar incidences had occurred in the past.
“Those who live along the border live under a great deal of stress, because they are the ones who directly feel the impact when there is a situation along the border,” he said.