Headline — 15 March 2016 — by Adele Ramos
OAS to discuss Belize- Guatemala Sarstoon military tension

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Mar. 14, 2016–Belize Foreign Affairs Minister, Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, is leading a delegation to the Organization of American States (OAS), in Washington, DC, USA, where the parties hope to meet tomorrow, Tuesday, at 11:00 a.m. (9:00 Belize time) to discuss proposals for a new set of confidence-building measures for the Sarstoon River, Belize’s southern natural boundary with Guatemala, where tensions flared between security forces from both sides of the border this weekend.

A key figure at tomorrow’s meeting will be H.E. Assad Shoman, who will join the Belize delegation as the representative of the Opposition People’s United Party. As senior ambassador with ministerial rank, Shoman signed the 2000 “confidence building measures,” which established the “adjacency zone” along Belize’s western border with Guatemala. He also signed the 2003 agreement. As Belize’s Foreign Minister in 2005, he signed the 2005 confidence building measures, also setting up protocols for relations along the western border.

The confidence building measures had not been extended to the Sarstoon, but at the recent law conference of the Bar Association of Belize, Shoman proposed that similar measures should be set up for the Sarstoon.

Also joining the Belize delegation in Washington will be H.E. Patrick Andrews, Belize’s permanent representative to the OAS and to the US; H.E. Alexis Rosado, Belize’s resident ambassador in Guatemala City, and Minister Counsellor Ardelle Sabido, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Belize Embassy in Washington.

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Guatemala’s delegation will be led by their Foreign Minister, Carlos Raúl Morales. His delegation will also be joined by a former foreign minister in that country – Ambassador Maritza Ruiz de Vielman, and Guatemala’s Ambassador to Belize — Manuel Roldan Barillas.

Tomorrow’s meeting was originally called to discuss the financing of the OAS office in the adjacency zone, which is reportedly running out. We understand from an official source that there are four items now on the agenda: the first is Belize’s proposals for the roles and functions and financing of the OAS office on the western border which separates Belize and Guatemala.

Second on the list is the proposal for a set of confidence-building measures for “the Sarstoon and its vicinity,” and third is discussions to advance progress towards the referenda in Belize and Guatemala on the question of whether the territorial differendum should go to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) or not. Fourth on the agenda is any other matter of interest between the parties.

At 3:00 in the afternoon, the delegations are scheduled to meet with the Group of Friends, which includes countries which have been supporting the “peace process” between Belize and Guatemala. OAS observers are also scheduled to attend that meeting.

In its press release issued Tuesday, the Government of Belize reported that Guatemalan military “behaved in an extremely hostile and threatening manner” towards Belize Defence Force soldiers. The Government announced that talks are to take place in Washington on Tuesday between the two sides under the auspices of the OAS, and in the meantime Belize has informed key members of the international community, including the US and the UK, of the extremely critical situation.

We understand that the Government of Guatemala issued a protest note to Belize this afternoon, but were told that the contents, “out of courtesy,” could not be disclosed, under annex c of the confidence building measures—which incidentally do NOT cover the Sarstoon, at least not yet; that annex calls for governments to “moderate the language and tone of their written communications and public pronouncements of their officials.”

The annex also states that whenever a country receives the report of an alleged “incident” caused by the other country, every attempt must be made to verify the facts before the issue is made public.

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