BELIZE CITY, Mon. Sept. 26, 2016–Belize Foreign Affairs Minister, H.E. Mr. Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, chastised Guatemala in his address at the 71st General Assembly of the United Nations (UNGA) this morning, for violating the United Nations Charter in what he described as a “recklessly dangerous” move by Guatemala to deploy thousands of soldiers to its border in Belize following a shooting incident in which a Guatemalan minor was killed in April 2016.
“Regrettably, though not unpredictably, in the last eighteen months, there have been hostile incidents between civilian and military personnel of both Belize and Guatemala in the Sarstoon River, our southern border. Guatemala naval personnel repeatedly impeded the peaceful ingress and egress of Belizeans, both civilian and military on the river, wrongfully claiming the river as theirs.
“However, as the northern side of the river is Belizean territory, the unimpeded use and enjoyment of that side of the river is the right of every Belizean,” Elrington said, adding that Belize has promptly and properly protested each such attempt of the Guatemalans and engaged the OAS “with a view of putting a speedy end to that potentially perilous practice.”
Whereas the recent skirmishes on the Sarstoon have not led to any exchange of gunfire, the same cannot be said for the border regions of the Chiquibul, where the Guatemalans incessantly enter Belize to illegally extract the country’s national patrimony.
Elrington cited activities such as panning for gold, illegal wildlife harvesting and trafficking, pillaging of Mayan temples, marijuana cultivation by drug traffickers among the persistent problems which Belize faces at the hands of Guatemalans.
He also recalled the shooting death of Belizean special constable Danny Conorquie at the Caracol temples in September 2014 and the ambush of Staff Sergeant Richard Lambey “by trespassers entering Belize from Guatemala.”
Next, he turned to the tragic incident which resulted in the death of a Guatemalan minor on April 20, 2016, inside the Chiquibul National Park, not too far from Belize’s border with Guatemala.
The Organization of American States (OAS) commissioned an independent special investigation, the results of which, Elrington said, “completely absolved Belize of any and all claims for the incident and it makes manifest wrongness of the Guatemalans in their accusations against Belize and against the personnel of our Belize Defence Force.”
Since that report was released last month, Guatemala has publicly rejected it, and Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales went further last Thursday to use the forum of the UNGA—where he lobbied for the support of the international community for his country’s candidature to the Human Rights Council for the period of 2017-19—to demonize Belize, the independent nation of whose territory Guatemala wants to claim at least half. Morales portrayed Belize as a bad neighbor, claiming that it was responsible for the deaths of 10 Guatemalans in border incidents since 1999.
“These grave acts directly harm the bilateral relationship and hinder progress towards building trust,” Morales brazenly told the UN.
In his UN address, Elrington noted that, “The OAS commissioned two senior eminently qualified specialists to undertake that special investigation with the full knowledge and approval of the Guatemalan government. At the time, Guatemalan expressed no reservation as to their competence, suitable or otherwise, to undertake the investigation.”
Morales notably did not mention the OAS-commissioned report in his UN address, but only cited forensic reports from Belize and Guatemalan authorities, underscoring the fact that Guatemala wants to ignore the findings of the OAS-commissioned investigation.
Elrington chastised Guatemala for its stance, saying that, “It is certainly irresponsible, if not reprehensible and utterly unacceptable that Guatemala would now seek to reject the results of a process which it had specifically requested and agreed to, and which was conducted by OAS-appointed, independent third country professionals with impeccable credentials and with no axe to grind, and the wanton threat of use of force by a nation against its neighbor is wholly uncalled for, recklessly dangerous and in clear violation of the charter of this United Nations.”
The Belize Foreign Minister said that the OAS-commissioned report further discloses that, “…the deceased, a brother (also a minor), and their father were knowingly and unlawfully well within Belizean territory on the night of the incident, and that none of the wounds inflicted were caused by weapons carried by personnel of the Belize Defence Force.”
Although Morales told the UN that “the child died from multiple gun wounds from a high-powered rifle,” Elrington told the Assembly that according to the independent investigation, the wounds were inflicted by small caliber arms carried by members of a local conservation non-governmental organization that made up the Belize patrol.
“Shots were fired by both groups: the Guatemalans and the Belize joint patrol on that ill-fated night and the following morning, elements of the Guatemalan army along with civilians from a nearby Guatemalan village entered Belize territory illegally, visited the site, contaminated the scene and withdrew and withheld evidentiary material that could have been useful to the investigation,” the Minister detailed.
Elrington added that, “In the wake of the incident, a fanatical public relations campaign waged on the night of the [shooting incident] falsely alleging that the death of the minor was at the hands of the Belize Defence Force.”
“In addition, the Guatemalan president publicly announced the amassing of troops along our western and southern borders,” Elrington said.
He noted, however, that the report of the special independent commission chronicles, what really took place and the objective impartial findings of fact established the correctness of the Belize position, while exposing “the wholly erroneous nature of the allegations leveled against our country by Guatemala.”
Despite Guatemala’s actions against Belize, Morales told the UN last Thursday that, “Guatemala undertakes actions of cooperation and good neighborliness in our geographical surroundings. I want to express the commitment of my country to resolve permanently and definitively in the International Court of Justice, the territorial, insular and maritime dispute with Belize, a country with which we aspire to have a privileged relationship and a permanent dialogue for the solution of common problems. However, in recent months we no longer encounter such a reciprocal attitude on the part of the Belizean authorities.”
Elrington rebutted him today, saying that, “Belize’s only wish is to live in peace and harmony with all our neighbors, including Guatemala. We fully appreciate that with each passing day, with more and more Guatemalans trespassing into our country, despoiling our natural resources and engaging in illegal and destructive activities, the potential for violent incidents and conflicts becomes more and more probable and problematic. This situation makes for a prompt and peaceful end to this anachronistic and unfounded claim over our country an urgent imperative.”
The UNGA debate is being held on the heels of Belize’s observation of its 35th year of Independence on September 21. Elrington told the UN that although membership confirmed the country’s independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and place amongst equals in the community of nationals, it regrettably “did not resolve the territorial claim, laid to our country some eighty years ago by Guatemala.”
The 1980 UN resolution on the “Question of Belize,” called upon “the Government of the United Kingdom, as the responsible administering Power, to continue to ensure the security and the territorial integrity of Belize…”
Additionally, it called on the UN, the global alliance of 192 nations, to GUARANTEE Belize’s security and territorial integrity even after Independence.